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    Name of the Film: Wall-E

    Wall-E is the latest outing from children’s’ film favourite, Pixar. Since their debut in 1995, Pixar have been anything but disappointing touching on the lives of toys, bugs, monsters, fish, superheroes, and now, a lovable robot. Clearly, Pixar have never made the same film twice and unlike many other studios they have never made a less than three star film. The question is, have Pixar managed to uphold this exemplary film-making record with their most recent work? In the opinion of this reviewer, they have surpassed all of their previous triumphs.

    It is 700 years into the future and the population of Earth consists mainly of mountains of garbage (very neatly packed mountains of garbage I might add). Earth was abandoned centuries previously as due to excessive waste it became uninhabitable. To clean up our planet hundreds of Wall-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter - E Class) robots were sent to Earth to, essentially, clear up the mess we left. Unfortunately, after such a long period of time all of the robots have been destroyed; all of the robots but one, our protagonist, Wall-E. Wall-E rolls around the Earth picking up piles of trash, compacting them into small cubes and heaping these into mountains. He contently does this picking up ’interesting’ human objects with only the company of a cockroach and the musical sounds of Barbra Streisand recorded from a VHS of Hello, Dolly!

    The premise of the film doesn’t appear to be one that would work on a feature length level. For much of the film there is no dialogue except Wall-E’s beeps and pronunciation of his own name with a robotic speech impediment (voiced by Ben Burtt of Star wars fame). Despite this, Pixar make Wall-E an engaging character showcasing their ability to make any creature sentient and lovable, I personally await what Pixar would do with stationary rocks.

    It is not until the arrival of Eve (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), a new mac-like robot when compared to our PC Wall-E, that there is any change in Wall-E’s life. Instead of spending time watching Hello, Dolly! Wall-E instead follows Eve attempting to woo her with bizarre shows of affection for instance, building a model of her out of pieces of waste. This is unsuccessful causing Wall-E to try even harder showing her his never-ending collection of ’impressive’ waste such as a rubix cube, a tape and of course, Hello, Dolly! The dynamic between these two mechanized beings is beautiful and surprisingly relatable to human interactions; the not so well-off, inept male attempting to impress the sophisticated female is indeed a tale we have seen before but the story of Wall-E adds a delightful spin to it.

    Throughout the film there is a underlying current of darkness that would probably not be detected by most children. The Wall-E universe is essentially the worst result of media concentration, mass consumption and later, dependency. Something that is apparent is that the state of Earth as depicted by the film is plausible, the corporation Buy n’ Large appears to own everything which, looking at the state of companies such as supermarkets today, could quite easily happen. When we are first introduced to humans the first thing that may strike the viewer is how huge they are, this sounds more than familiar. Life is made ridiculously simple to the point where legs aren’t necessarily as floating chairs do all the work and cutlery isn‘t necessary as a whole meal comes in a cup. Wall-E even touches on a lack of contact due to the ease of communication; humans don’t speak face-to-face even when they are next to each other. The lack of awareness of their surroundings is clear amongst the humans and in this internet and television centred age, it is clear that the messages in the film have more than a bit of relevance. The presence of this undercurrent of darkness makes Wall-E an even better film. Like most great children’ films it works on two levels entertaining people of all ages. Wall-E paints a dreary picture of the future concealing this from some viewers by painting with bright colours.

    Something that is less obvious about the film is it’s genre. It has the classic makings of a romance story with a touch of mystery and large slabs of Sci-Fi. It is the sci-fi aspect of the film that is most evident. The score has the grand and majestic feel of a science fiction epic which suit’s the story perfectly. Wall-E even features a wonderful reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey in terms of score and something else that I shan’t disclose for spoiler reasons.

    To conclude, Wall-E is a magical adventure with some of the most likable characters of the year. It is breathtaking and most certainly worth watching.

    Rating out of 10: 8

    Name of the Film: American History X

    This is a film that I would not have personally gone out to watch had it not been recommended for me. American History X is a film centred around the White power movement and the consequences of extremism. It is also a convincing depiction of the human abitlity to change, often for the better.

    The film's main protagonist is the intelligent Derek Vinyard. Following the murder of his father; a fireman who was shot whilst putting out a fire in a crack house, Derek becomes filled with racial hatred and eventually becomes the second in command of the Venice Beach neo-Nazi gang, The Disciples of Christ. Under the guidance of Cameron Alexander (the leader of the D.O.C), Derek recruits others, mainly those who were victimised by people of ethnic minorities, to join their fellowship. Following the murder of a black character (a particularly horrific scene in the film), Derek is sentenced to three years in prison for voluntary manslaughter.

    Three years later Derek's White Supremacist ideology is present in his brother. As the film begins, we see Danny's Principal telling Danny to write a report due the next day about his brother. The film is narrated by Danny as he writes his report. It consists mainly of many flashbacks of Derek when he was second in command of the D.O.C and Danny's commentary on what he thought of his brother. Derek is no longer the White Supremacist he used to be, Derek instead tries to teach Danny that what he believes is wrong, attempting to undo the damage he had done to his brother previously.

    The main themes highlighted in the film are affirmative action and racism. The them of affirmative action is mainly explored through the character of Derek's father. The argument against affirmative action is highlighted in a conversation that the whole family has at the dinner table. It raises the question, "If someone is less suited for a job, do they deserve to have it because the company needs to fill a racial equality quota". The theme of racism, as you may guess, is present throughout the film. It is present in the actions of the D.O.C and how their actions are "justified". Another conversation at the table also explores this theme. Derek attempts to justify the Rodney King incident in the presence of a date of his mothers. This eventually results in a argument and later violence.

    An element of the film that is an integral part of the storyline in the dialogue. The development of all of the characters is more present in the words of the characters than their actions. Derek's prejudice is present in his speeches as is his justification for everything he does.

    The performances of the actors in this film are absolutely amazing. Edward Norton plays Derek Vineyard. Norton shows the ability to depict the hatred and development of his character very convincingly, the mark of a great actor. Edward Furlong, mainly known for his role in Terminator 2, plays our narrator and the character, Danny. Vocally, Furlong does well, he delivers the narration of this lines in the intended form of a report and also carried the emotional undercurrents of a brother analysing the actions of his brother. In addition of to being a good narrator, as a physical character, Furlong's performance is outstanding. He also convincingly shows the development of his character. The film also stars Avery Brooks, notably known for his role on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Brooks was an actor is was weary of because he is always in my head as Commander Sisko. I was able to forget this role and I soon became absorbed and entranced by his performance as the Principal Dr. Sweeney.

    American History X is amazing film that I would recommend almost anyone. The acting is great, as is the direction, and storyline. An aspect of the film that I particularly enjoyed was the change from black and white to colour. For each flashback, the film became black and white. There may be some reason for this that the director intended but I always assumed it was to highlight the difference between the races. I thought that they were, in essence, pretending that the issues were as simple as black and white.

    American History X outlines the evolution of one man and I can't think of a better way in which this story could be told. The film also has a message for us all, as Danny (Furlong) says at the end hate is baggage.

    Rating out of 10: 9

    Name of the Film: Brick

    This modern film-noir opens with the sound of its lightly chiming score slowly revealing our protagonist and a body in a pool of water. Brick tells the tale of Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), our enigmatic protagonist as he investigates the death of his ex-girlfriend Emily. With the help of several supporting characters, Brendan is quickly taken into the underground network surrounding him.

    Roger Ebert describes it “as noir to it’s very bones“, truer words have never been spoken. Brick has the core elements of classic film noir with elements making this great genre applicable to a present day story. Brendan is a troubled character and to an extent he is a tragic hero; neither good nor bad and punished a force beyond his control-Emily. The death of Emily is not the only mystery, as mentioned previously, Brendan is an enigma. He is a puzzle that slowly begins to unfold as the film progresses. One of the of the essential parts of American film-noir in the 1940s and 1950s was the snappy dialogue. The dialogue in Brick embraces a form of slang known only to the characters within the film. This dialogue is so impressive that I would go so far as to compare Rian Johnson with classic noir writers such as Raymond Chandler.

    Joseph Gordon Levitt (3rd Rock From the Sun) is unrecognisable in his role as Brendan. His performance is like a more serious version of Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep. Much of what Brendan feels and thinks is not present in his words of overly emotive scenes but in very subtle changes in expression. Levitt’s portrayal of Brendan illustrates the talent of this young, underrated actor.

    The film owes as much credit to the supporting cast as to the main character. Matt O’Leary (Spy Kids 2) is highly impressive in his role as The Brain. He convincingly portrays the intellectual outsider his great conviction. Noah Segan, as the at times whining Pot Head, Dode gives a powerful and believable performance. Megan Good plays the seductive drama queen, Kara. She embraces the role at hand and her performance shows that she is most certainly a rising talent. A performance that cannot be defined simply as good or bad it that of Noah Fleiss as Tug. His anger is almost tangible but it is questionable as to whether his anger borders over-acting.

    The music within the film could simply be described as delicate. It is not an overly dramatic score but some subtle music from Nathan Johnson. It is in perfect sync with the events of the film and captures the mood of the whole film.

    Rian Johnson combines classic film-noir with teen drama producing a modern masterpiece. A great screenplay, stylistic shots and an overall great film define Rian Johnson as a filmmaker we must all look out for.

    Rating out of 10: 8

    Name of the Film: Happy-Go-Lucky

    Happy-Go-Lucky introduces us to Poppy, who regardless of what happens does not cease smiling. Her bike is stolen, her driving instructor is a lunatic, a child in her class is troubled, but does that smile waver? No.

    Mike Leigh’s latest work is noticeably more cheerful than his previous film, Vera Drake, but we must be careful not to mark him as a bringer of misery. Leigh dabbled in the comedy genre with Topsy-Turvy, the short film A Sense of History as well as Life is Sweet. However, it can be argued that Mike Leigh’s command of the comedy genre is most apparent in Happy-Go-Lucky, the script is absolutely wonderful and combined with the greatly impressive performances given, Leigh may have produced his greatest film to date.

    Poppy can at first appear to be rather annoying character. She’s more happy than your average person, she wears some of most the colourful, kooky outfits you’ve ever been privy to , she speaks a lot, at times in a rather crazy vernacular but, despite this, you can’t help but love her. Where could we find such a person you ask? In one of London’s primary schools of course. Poppy is clearly a great teacher of a class of content children and the scenes in the classroom are a joy to watch. One of Poppy’s driving forces appears to be a desire to make other people happy, be it her friends, her pupils or her driving instructor. There are some points within the film where we wonder whether Poppy’s desire to help others is a negative trait. To an extent, it blinds her to some of the dangers she faces, this is obvious in a scene where Poppy, alone, speaks to homeless man in what could be described as industrial wasteland. Does this compromise the realism of the film? Does it make us question the extent to which we respect Poppy as a character? Or does it is simply add to the many layers of our protagonist? Mike Leigh, does not give us the two-dimensional character we see in the adverts. Poppy is complex, self-aware, compassionate and wiser than we know.

    Sally Hawkins (winner of the Silver Bear at the Berlin film festival) is mesmerising in her role as Poppy. We give immense amount of credit to actors hen they pull of that strong, powerful, emotional scene often characterised by sorrow or anger. What we seem to forget is how hard it can be to smile for long periods of time. Hawkins smiles in nearly every moment she spends on screen and she clearly gives it her all. She’s really smiling. Hawkins certainly bring Mike Leigh’s script to life and she is completely believable as Poppy.

    A core element of the film is not just Poppy as a character but Poppy’s interactions between the people she comes across. The relationship between Poppy and her roommate, Zoë (Alexis Zegerman) is adorable. Their voices complement each other and there is an ongoing feeling that their conversations are going no-where, despite this, you can’t help but enjoy listening to them. Eddie Marsan plays the somewhat psychotic driving instructor, Scott. Scott is Poppy’s complete opposite; miserable, rigid, prejudiced and lets just throw male into it. We slowly become aware that Poppy is not the best person to be around Scott. She appears to be against every he stands for and his agitation around her becomes palpable.

    Where the film leaves the audience greatly depends on the viewer. Mike Leigh definitely makes a statement, but it’s up to you decide what you think it is. Happy-Go-Lucky is guaranteed to have you in laughs for the most of the film, it is certainly worth watching, never has it been easier to remain entertained for 118 minutes

    Rating out of 10:8

    Death Race (2008, Paul W.S. Anderson)

    For all of Paul W.S. Anderson’s many flaws as a filmmaker, he has certainly not skimped on the grit with his R-rated remake of superb cult favourite Death Race 2000. The film’s opening four-minute race sequence, complete with a voiceover cameo from David Carradine (the star of the original film), will assure viewers that this is at least a film that works as a solid slice of B-movie exploitation.

    Where Death Race evidently diverges from Paul Bartel’s version is the setup itself – Jason Statham suits up as arguably the unluckiest man on Earth, a steel mill worker by the name of Jensen Ames. On the same day, Ames is made redundant, ripped off by his workplace, and framed for the murder of his wife. Furthermore, Ames is shipped off to jail, where sadistic warden Hennessey (Joan Allen) offers him his freedom if he can compete in, and survive the vicious “Death Race”, a 3-day demolition derby to the death. Naturally, his opponents are a rabble of thoroughly loathsome individuals, lead by Death Race veteran Machine Gun Joe (played by Sylvester Stallone 33 years ago, now replaced by Tyrese Gibson).

    In the film’s defense, it swings along at a nifty pace, and even in its clichéd establishing scenes at the prison, it isn’t long at all before Statham is cracking skulls left and right with his dinner plate. What really makes the film work for the large part, however, is Joan Allen’s character – her modus operandi allows the film to develop more as a spiritual sequel to the original film as opposed to a remake. The film includes its fair share of references to Frankenstein, the original film’s protagonist, and it is the materialistic determination of Allen’s character that makes these nods to the original work as devoted fan service rather than shameless name dropping.

    Although it would certainly be wrong to deem the film to be particularly intelligent, Anderson has included a few choice touches that carry the spirit of the original, adapting the ironic dialectic of the 1975 version to attune to a modern world. Allen’s character, for instance, despite operating the Death Race, has a staunch aversion to foul language, a none-too subtle swipe at regulatory committees such as the MPAA, under which Anderson’s films have doubtless endured scrutiny.

    Death Race’s supporting cast is a rather mixed affair – Ames’ quest for survival is aided by a man known simply as Coach (Ian McShane), who is accompanied by two rather buffoonish goofball characters. The latter two characters do little for the film, even working awkwardly as comic relief, yet their screen presence is fortunately limited, and much is left to more agreeable thesp McShane, who clearly had a lot of fun with the role.

    In keeping with the original, the film would not be replete without a plethora of attractive female characters, who serve as the navigators for the racers. Although their introductory scene plays out as a hilarious, incongruent mockery of many a rap music video, soon enough Case (Natalie Martinez) arrives on the scene as Ames’ guide throughout the Death Race, and for all intents and purposes, she works as eye candy, but then, not as much else.

    Anderson’s take on Death Race doesn’t approach the subject matter with as much subtlety or intellect as the original film, but many will appreciate its tongue-in-cheek tact, with obvious knocks to pay-per-view violence in all of its forms. Thus, Death Race works as a generational update of a cult classic, and fans of shunts and bumps action are in for something of a treat. The film’s action scenes are commendably lengthy and chaotic to the point where Death Race is perhaps the most action-packed film of the year thus far. For all of its hyperactivity, I found myself captivated by the film’s final action scene, a wildly overblown, utterly ridiculous affair, but for the intents of its target audience, one must chalk up a sizable victory for Anderson. Moreover, the film’s plentiful death scenes are mostly played for laughs, again remaining in-tune with the dark humour of the original film.

    The film’s ending is something of a cheesy, unnecessary addendum to an otherwise tight package, yet its brevity makes it an acceptable misstep. It is also a surprise that Anderson, slapped with an R-rating, has not chosen to amp the violence up to more extreme levels, given the over-the-top graphic violence of the original. Instead, Death Race is surprisingly restrained, offering the occasional splatter of gore, but largely concentration on elephantine explosions and vehicular acrobatics.

    Death Race is certainly Paul W.S. Anderson’s most entertaining film of recent years – melding deftly helmed action scenes with performances that no film this unabashedly loud probably deserves, Anderson has crafted a thoroughly entertaining action film to round off the Summer.

    Rating: 7/10

    Babylon A.D. (2008, Mathieu Kassovitz)

    Babylon A.D. is a film branded as “pure violence and stupidity” by even its own director, Mathieu Kassovitz, who further resolves that “parts of the movie are like a bad episode of ‘24’”. Whilst Kassovitz’s claims that Fox seized much of his creative and directorial control would surprise few, Babylon A.D. is still a sloppily directed and poorly acted film from every angle.

    It is incredibly unfortunate for all involved that the film is so ill-conceived when noting the considerable promise at hand – fans of action heavyweight Vin Diesel have no doubt been chomping at the bit to witness his return to the realm of explosions and effects extravaganzas, since his last (albeit mediocre) effort to that effect, in The Chronicles of Riddick. As far as high-concept fare goes, the setup is at least passable, finding mercenary Toorop (Diesel) transporting a mysterious woman named Aurora (Mélanie Thierry) from Eastern Europe to New York.

    Unfortunately, the film delivers little outside of this one-sentence premise. The performances from start to finish are stale and entirely lacking in zest, perhaps no more than from Diesel, who despite usually delivering a brand of fairly likeable charisma, simply coasts through the material here, casually chewing the dialogue too frequently thrown his way. Kassovitz brings along fellow Frenchman Gerard Depardieu for the ride, yet despite his usually agreeable stylings, Depardieu is as sigh-inducing as his American counterparts, failing to escape the trappings of the film’s melodramatic script. Barely leading the pack is Michelle Yeoh who, in spite of the litany of clichés leveled in front of her morally ambiguous nun character, barely manages to keep above surface, as is more than can be said for the rest of the cast.

    Even as standard action fare, Babylon A.D. fails to deliver any sort of visceral thrills – curiously devoid of much kinetic activity for its first 40 minutes, things finally kick off in a Russian club, whereby Toorop finds himself battling a musclebound behemoth inside a cage. However, the scene ends on an unintentionally hilarious note that entirely undermines the preceding action, and makes it difficult to take Diesel’s character as anything more than a hench buffoon. This scene is also the greatest indictment of helmer Kassovitz who, whilst welcome to attack scripting issues, has little to defend against his sloppy direction, made incomprehensible and disorientating by overly-frenetic camera movement.

    Even if you are able to buy into the fact that Toorop turns down $1m to walk away from his mission, the film’s threadbare plot is shamelessly protracted by cheesy instances of faux-drama and shoddily conceived action scenes. Kassovitz mentions that parts of the film are like a bad episode of 24, yet this film is twice as long, and much more excruciating to sit through.

    The film’s unintentional humour and ridiculous product placement (such as a large “Coke Zero” stamp on a plane) may tide viewers over to a degree, but they do little to rescind the film’s inherently dismal quality. The final act of Babylon A.D. provides a certain change of pace, and whilst it offers an occasional dash of visual flair and a few surprises (welcome or not), the film remains bogged down by the aforementioned misgivings, and never amounts to the sum of its parts. In the film’s final thirty minutes, Kassovitz opens several new narrative strands, yet never delivers a satisfying or coherent payoff, instead leaving viewers confused and alienated. It makes one curious as to whether the supposed 15-minutes excised by Fox would remedy several of these inconsistencies, yet Babylon A.D. is still an irredeemably broken film in any regard.

    Babylon A.D. arrives at its ending with break-neck pace, its final scene taking the viewer on a perilously reminiscent trip back to Diesel’s work on The Pacifier. Moreover, there is no sense of equilibrium or disequilibrium in the film’s conclusion – it appears to say that good has succeeded, yet never resolves the quandary of the main antagonist, nor presents a sense of impending dread that would leave the story open-ended. Needless to say, it is sloppy, and does not work at all.

    Regardless of who is in fact at fault, Babylon A.D. is an overblown misfire which provides little of value beyond its accidental chuckles and occasional moments of technical prowess. Any film in which Michelle Yeoh is “best of show” is evidently performance-impaired, and for all of the chances that Diesel has to really sink his teeth into this role, he instead resembles someone who has not slept for several weeks. Given the grand scale of Kassovitz’s dream project and the intriguing storyline, Babylon A.D. is a hollow and banal disappointment.


    Name of the Film: Step Brothers (Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly 2008)

    It's safe to say that the hilarity and stupidity of Ferrell and Reilly's characters in this movie was pretty close to perfect. You might think they're creepy and just too pathetic, but it's a given that's what they were going for. You'll be close to crying when it's all said and done feeling as though you laughed through the whole thing. This movie was certainly a great way for Will Ferrell to step back from his non-stop drunk and over the top characters, and to finally play opposite someone as funny as he is. And in a Rated-R film, no less.

    Brennan Huff's (Ferrel) brother in the film played the successful and insulting jerk to Ferrel's and Reilly's character. His role could've been a little less obvious with his cruel characteristics and not so sudden and constant with his remarks. Other than that, however, there really wasn't any other flaws in the characters or story that would make anybody leave the theater or quick watching.

    The outrageous dialog between the Step Brothers was comedy at its finest. If it wasn't a joke, but simple dialog, it would still get plenty of laughs, all because of the delivery. Director, Adam McKay couldn't have done better with this film. It is a must-see, no question.


    Name of Film: RocknRolla (2008, Guy Ritchie)

    There have been a lot of comebacks in the last year. Batman has suddenly – and rather inexplicably in the case of some fads – become ridiculously cool once again; Rambo proved that even if you gun down 236 Burmese militia, you can’t win the hearts of critics; and Indy showed that he still had a few cracks of the whip left in him. Is this Guy Ritchie joining the Caped Cruscader in the pantheon of great comebacks? Or is this the final straw after Swept Away and Revolver? Well, the answer is neither.

    So what, exactly, is it? Yes, I can hear you from here. Well, it’s a step back in the right direction, but he hasn’t crossed the finish line. Yet. It shows flashes of the brilliance that made Lock, Stock… and Snatch so very entertaining – multilayered story; sharp, blackly comic dialogue; interesting, well developed characters – and yet somehow isn’t nearly as good as them.

    It ****** it up on two counts. First, the story – whilst indeed multilayered and interchanging – isn’t half as tight as it should be. There’re a couple of completely redundant story threads that could easily have been amalgamated into the others – I won’t give them away here, as they are pivotal in the story, but they should’ve been incorporated into the other threads, instead of having their own dedicated ones. It also suffers from the so-called ‘flabby opening’ syndrome; featuring none of the drive and focus that decorated his first two films, instead choosing to be rather broad and rather schizophrenic in which story threads it shows us and when.

    The second is that fact that Ritchie is still sat under the delusion that allowed Revolver to start bubbling in his mental cauldron. It’s the delusion that he’s an arty film-maker – and whilst it’s starting to wear off, thanks to the lambasting that Revolver got, ‘t’would seem that a few dregs of it still held fast during the conception of Rocknrolla. It seems to aspire to a higher sense of purpose, that it means something, what with the musings on life, the universe and everything rolling from his characters lips. The only one that holds true is a particularly well written speech from the titular Rocknrolla, Johnny Quid, about the juxtapositional nature of a cigarette box, then comparing it to his present predicament. It’s the only piece of pretension that actually works, and it just goes to show that, in measured amounts, pretentiousness shouldn’t be a bad thing.

    This isn’t, however, to say that the movie is unwatchable. Every character is well fleshed out, and performed competently at the very least. The only stand-out is Toby Kebbell’s Johnny Quid – Kebbell putting in a fiercely intelligent performance of a wise-cracking, emotional cripple that really is something of a proverbial diamond in the rough. The rest of the characters – whilst well written in and of themselves – are given precious little to do in the grand scheme of things, their minor antics all contributing to the over-arching plot, but seeming to lack any drive and purpose beyond ‘because it needs to be in the film’. There's a lot of potential here, but it's simply not capitalised on.

    But, at about 45-minutes in, something magical happens - the focus suddenly kicks in, and the story tightens up. If ‘it’s about bloody time’ doesn’t roll across your thoughts, you probably weren’t paying attention. What follows is – to tentatively use the term – vintage Richie. All mockney quips, black comedy and ingenious plot turns. It’s also where some of the action kicks in, including an absolutely brilliant sequence involving One-Two (Gerard Butler doing his thang) Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy understating to the max) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) out-running some Russian mafiosos in a pulse-pounding sequence which involves some fantastic action and a huge dollop of Ritchie’s trademark humour that is particularly pleasing.

    Ultimately, however, the movie neatly sums itself up just before the credits roll, claiming ‘Archie, Johnny and the Wild Bunch will be back in The Real RocknRolla'. If this isn’t a frank admission that Ritchie could’ve done better with such a rich cast playing such interesting characters, then I don’t know what is. So if Guy Ritchie himself admits it…well, it must be true. I’n’it?

    Rating Out of 10: 6

    Flashbacks of a Fool (2008, Baillie Walsh)

    Daniel Craig recently took time out from cavorting in revealing swimwear and ousting international terrorists to star in little-known British independent film Flashbacks of a Fool. Starring as egotistical fading film star Joe Scott, Craig’s character returns home to England for the funeral of a childhood friend, and is forced to confront the demons of his childhood.

    Flashbacks of a Fool is certainly a beautifully shot picture – the lush expanses of both the US and UK landscapes have been captured superbly by helmer Baillie Walsh and cinematographer John Mathieson. For all of the film’s plentiful scenes of empty contemplation, the picturesque horizons and glistening waves encompassed within certainly make this venture far more tolerable.

    With all of the drug and sex-addled hedonism and ditzy starlet characters enveloping the film’s opening moments, it would be easy to dismiss Flashbacks of a Fool as a superficial and bathetic drama. For all of its flaws (of which there are many), the film is a mildly intriguing psychological character study, and Daniel Craig is a more than suitable lead, both by performance and looks. Where the film loses stability, however, is in its execution, delivering a personal melodrama that never connects the dots and more importantly, fails to relate to the viewer.

    Much criticism can be directed at Walsh’s script, which is overblown and further compounded by actors who make their best efforts, but cannot bring the awkward dialogue back down to Earth. Thus, much of the film plays out like a grossly inflated melodrama. One can argue that such is an intention to represent the sheer absurdity of Hollywood’s social circles, yet this does little to mitigate quite how irritating portions of this film are.

    Daniel Craig, to his credit, manages to remain convincing as the self-centered, irritable film star, although the constant histrionics thrown his way do not aid the situation. However, Craig does manage to persuade both as the chiseled film star and as the washed out, drug-addled fiend – a strange and beautiful dichotomy.

    The film is certainly at its best when leaving Scott to his own devices, uninhibited by the grossly underdeveloped characters around him, unveiling the cerebral undercurrent of the narrative. Here is a man who, haunted by his past, is unable to escape it, even with all of the money, sex, drugs and alcohol in the world, even as hard as he does invariably try to. Ultimately, however, Joe’s psychological portrait is formed with little complexity, harmed entirely as director Walsh opts for a meandering pace that does little beyond pad out a relatively simple story. Several of the film’s scenes are certainly well-intended and absolutely beautifully filmed, yet miss their mark entirely (such as the ever-clichéd “contemplative bathing in the sea” scene).

    Once the film enters “flashback mode”, events truly grind to a halt. Moreover, Scott’s young life in England is far too glamorous and hedonistic to aptly dictate any meaningful character development. The flashbacks would have been far more effective if Joe did not grow up around glamorous and beautiful people with large houses and flush bank accounts (particularly in relation to love interest Ruth). Thus, what would have been compelling disparity is lost.

    It is only as the film waltzes into the third act that it manages to amount to the sum of its parts with one visceral and sudden punch to the gut. However, in the end, it still lacks cohesion with the rest of the narrative, in particular Joe’s present existence. Moreover, the fact that Scott’s deceased friend Boots is horribly underdeveloped does not aid proceedings, and we are constantly kept at arm’s length from the present day Joe, who remains off-screen for upwards of thirty minutes at once.

    The film’s final dramatic scenes carry emotional impact and solid chemistry between the actors, but plod along at such a painstaking pace that you may find yourself rather restless waiting for the story to arrive at its inevitable and predictable climax.

    Baillie Walsh has crafted a beautiful looking and competently acted picture, to which effect it is all the more disappointing that Flashbacks of a Fool is a narratively flimsy film that lacks dramatic cohesion. Walsh spends far too much time in going through unnecessary motions with his overreaching narrative, never amounting to a meaningful whole, and never promoting the character development that one would expect in a character piece. Daniel Craig and Harry Eden (playing the younger Joe) do their best in spite of the lackluster script, yet Flashbacks of a Fool is unable to deliver more than a hollow dramatic piece due to Walsh’s inability to coherently articulate his characters.

    Rating: 5/10

    The Visitor (2008, Thomas McCarthy)

    Richard Jenkins has gradually crept up the Hollywood ladder over recent years - propelling himself to fame in Alan Ball’s excellent HBO drama Six Feet Under, and turning in a slew of solid character roles since, Jenkins finally finds himself breaking the glass ceiling with The Visitor, establishing himself as a viable leading man.

    Jenkins plays Walter Vale, a University professor, who comes home to one of his apartments to discover illegal immigrants Zainab (Danai Jekesai Gurira) and Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) living there. It is not entirely convincing that Walter allows them to stay with him for a few days, considering how inept a professor he is, and how embittered he must be with the passing of his wife, but The Visitor has a real humanity about itself that is in its own way rather intoxicating.

    Accepting this diversion is essential in telegraphing the film’s subsequent events – Tarek, the Syrian young man now living with Walter, is unjustly arrested and detained, and this is where the crux of the film’s dramatic tension takes place.

    Helmer and writer Thomas McCarthy places great focus upon the drum which Tarek plays in the park with other buskers, and encourages Jenkins to himself play. The drum serves as a metaphor – Tarek, and other immigrants simply want to be accepted and treated as human beings. Frequent reference is made to the rather condescending attitude often adopted by Westerners towards immigrants of all kinds, and in this regard The Visitor is sympathetic without launching on a bleeding heart tirade.

    Therein lies what is so admirable about the film – it is fair and avoids the temptation to delve into staunch didacticism. Writer McCarthy deals with the tempestuous issue of post-9/11 paranoia with tact yet does not attack either side of the argument – rather, he remarks that contempt only breeds more contempt, and understanding is what is evidently missing from the human part of the equation.

    That said, the film does perhaps not develop as much as it could have. When we first arrive at the detention centre where Tarek is held, the film is very eager to point out the good and wholesome immigrants who are people deeply concerned with family and playing music – it does not really articulate that some immigrants simply exploit the system. The film is therefore not entirely balanced, but it does well to not always put those on the winning side of the bureaucracy in a bad light. The Visitor, at its best, reminds us that there are assumptions made on both sides of the fence.

    Despite a seemingly dreary premise, the film is certainly not a wholly depressing affair – Jenkins’ Vale is a likeable and complex character, and seeing a resolve and understanding between the everyman Westerner and immigrants (particularly between Vale and Tarek’s mother) is something we likely need in these times. The detention of Tariq remains unexploitative and fortunately does not dwell on his treatment there more than is necessary. Rather, the plot is more concerned with misunderstanding between human beings stemming from paranoia following September 11th. It does not condemn those who are afraid, but rather condemns a lack of communication between human beings. Tarek simply wants to play his music, and regardless of your stance on immigration, it is difficult to deny that his quest for simple acceptance is handled with nobility and class.

    Still, the film never becomes clouded by saccharine sentiment or Hallmark truisms – it follows through with full force, delivering a powerful, devastating ending that cements the indiscriminate injustice with which the asylum process operates. McCarthy thankfully sidesteps a romance subplot that could have traipsed into inappropriate sexual tension in the film’s final minutes, but remains attuned to the film’s very attitude, that this is a film more concerned with interpersonal relations and understanding.

    The Visitor makes a valid case against the immigration system whilst not necessarily demonizing it as a construct but more the manner through which it is carried out. Richard Jenkins delivers a commanding performance with a strong supporting cast in this exceedingly real, yet not entirely joyless dramatic piece.

    Rating: 8/10

    Mirrors (2008, Alexandre Aja)

    Alexandre Aja has made a name for himself with two visually impressive gorefests – Switchblade Romance and Hills Have Eyes. Here, he returns with a decidedly more absurd premise than those films (albeit barely in relation to the former film), yet needless to say, gore fans are in for a visceral treat with Mirrors.

    Mirrors finds disgraced, down-and-out NYPD officer Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) working a new job as a security guard, pulling duty on a disused warehouse. The warehouse contains a large collection of mirrors, which begin viciously murdering anyone who steps inside the building. Naturally, nobody believes Carson’s outlandish claims, and so it is up to him to not only prove this madness, but put a stop to it.

    Unfortunately, Mirrors is simply too preposterous to work even within its own overworked genre of the supernatural thriller. Mirrors would have worked far better as a cop drama without the horror addendum, and would have played far better to the strengths of 24’s Kiefer Sutherland. Moreover, the fact that this film is crafted as a wholly serious horror work renders it all the less believable as a film – it is sorely lacking in tongue-in-cheek scares and ridiculously voluminous gore.

    Aja resorts to a lot of cheap thrills here, but to his credit, he does not take long to sink his teeth into the film’s premise. Moreover, Sutherland’s character is certainly not the typical clueless idiot so desperately abundant in most modern horror fare. Still, the intrigue does not pile on nearly fast enough once the creepiness begins.

    Furthermore, the second that things actually begin to unravel, more unnecessary and sigh-inducing enigma is piled on, and the film meanders into mediocre investigative supernatural thriller territory. As is the mistake of so many recent horror films, the key to genuine and effective scares is simplicity, and Mirrors drains its own lifeblood in creating an incredibly convoluted, and simply boring back story that will likely leave your mind the second you exit the cinema doors.

    Invariably, the film has received much attention for its famed jaw-ripping scene even before the film was released. Although certainly gratuitously violent (and for this reason, the best scene in the film), it is a bright spot in an otherwise fairly dull picture. This scene alone will likely tempt many into seeing Mirrors, yet it is just not enough to galvanize a bland and procedural horror film into life. This scene does, however, trigger one of the film’s few scenes of palatable drama, and actually allows Kiefer Sutherland to demonstrate that he possesses acting range beyond frenzied shouting and the dramatic whisper that he so meticulously mastered on his flagship TV show.

    Even if you are able to soldier on past the film’s ludicrous premise, it is difficult to find legitimate scares anywhere within this film. The concept of a fleet of mirrors attacking humans is laughable enough, and Aja clearly does not recognise that while an unseen enemy can be terrifying, it is not when it is this inert and this entirely devoid of screen presence. Had Aja seen sense and crafted Mirrors as a B-movie throwback, then perhaps this concept would have worked.

    To this effect, the abundance of unintentional humour throughout this film would certainly have worked in the favour of a schlocky, 80s-style horror knock-off. Carson’s frequently vain efforts to convince those around him that the mirrors are alive provide the film’s most valid entertainment, particularly as he shoots a mirror, and then proceeds to “seal” the demons inside the mirrors by painting them, much to the dismay of his traumatised children. Unfortunately, Aja plays these scenes for real, and they fall horrifically, laughably flat.

    The film’s third act convolutions certainly do not aid proceedings – as too many contemporary horror films hasten to do, Mirrors makes up the rules as it goes along, frequently bending the laws of its own universe without logic or explanation. I beg anyone to make sense of Carson’s final stand against the mirrors, and especially what follows.

    The final moments of Mirrors do admittedly provide an interesting sting in the tail, a game-changing predicament that was shockingly unpredictable although somewhat unexplained and overdone for shock value. Unfortunately, the film’s twist is too little too late, and does not aid in elevating this mediocre film beyond the trappings of its genre.

    Alexandre Aja has suffered what has invariably been labeled “Michael Bay syndrome” – Aja knows how to direct a beautiful looking and somewhat moody picture, yet he is a frustrating director to observe because he often settles for scripts that simply do not do him justice. Even the best efforts of Sutherland and some slick direction cannot save the film’s diabolical script, tiresome plot, and laughable premise.

    Rating: 5/10

    Righteous Kill, (2008, Jon Avnet)

    Righteous Kill is quite disappointing. Scratch that, it’s very disappointing. Billed as the second coming (together) of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro after Heat, it’s tagline reads ‘Most people respect the badge. Everyone respects the gun’. But you’d be a fool to respect this water-pistol of a movie.

    The story – such as there is one amid this disjointed mess that Russell Gerwitz has the gall to call a ‘script’ – goes that a man claiming his name is David Fisk (Robert De Niro), a.k.a ‘Turk’, is admitting to murdering 14 criminals who the justice system has let off easy. He’s recording his admission for whatever reason, and then it cues flashbacks to all the murders and the subsequent investigations into them, as well as the original indictments of the criminals that he and his partner – known only as ‘Rooster’ (Al Pacino) – have worked hard to construct. All isn’t as it seems, however, and when two tenacious detectives (Donnie Wahlberg, John Leguizamo) cotton onto the fact that one of their own is offing these criminals, things start to go wrong.

    As I pointed out, the first fall down is the script. It is, simply put, boring. There’s nothing to it – no interesting characters, poorly written dialogue and a ridiculously predictable twist. Considering this comes from the man who brought us Inside Man – a nuanced, perfectly weighted bank heist movie – the shoddiness of the script comes as something of a shock. Perhaps with Inside Man it was a great filmmaker making something special out of a relatively mediocre script; and turns out, Jon Avnet is no Spike Lee.

    Indeed, Avnet couldn’t direct himself out of a cardboard box even if he tried. There is simply no order to the movie, no discipline in the structuring of it. It’s far, far, far too long, and the problem with twist movies that are far too long is that the chances of the audience guessing your twist are directly proportional to the length of your film. Handled delicately, this twist – though poorly conceived – could’ve actually been quite surprising, but as it stands, you can see it coming for a good half-an-hour before the director deems fit to reveal it to us, and that makes the reveal rather tedious.

    Avnet, too, is responsible for the below par editing – I’m not usually a stickler for continuity errors, but here they’re so glaringly obvious that they simply can’t be ignored. editor should’ve been sacked for putting the film together in such an appallingly sloppy manner. That it’s Paul Hirsch, the man who edited Star Wars Episodes IV and V, comes as something of a shock

    But perhaps the biggest farce in all of this is that Robert De Niro was attracted to the script at all, and more annoying that he roped Al Pacino into the mix. De Niro simply seems to be coasting on the fact that he’s considered one of the greatest actors of our time, and if he keeps going on at this rate, he’ll have that title swiftly removed. His performance is stiff at best, and completely immobile at worst – there’s nothing going on in his characters head, and even his attempts to make the character brashly charismatic fall flat because he seems utterly unable to do anything with such a poorly developed role. It would seem to me that he’s an actor circling the drain – but all he needs is a rescue line in the form of a great director and a great script to give him one last hurrah.

    Faring slightly better is Al Pacino, at least bringing some anima and zest to the otherwise one-dimensional, fawn-eyed Rooster. He also manages to develop some pleasing chemistry with Wahlberg and Leguizamo, the three wisecracking to each-other in perhaps the movies sole redeeming sequence – a stake-out where they try to catch Turk in the supposed act of his fourteenth murder. The latter two themselves do well, displaying an easy camaraderie that could seemingly only come from years working together. Elsewhere, the gorgeous Carla Gugino struggles with a character completely peripheral to the main story – ‘t’would seem she’s this film’s wonderbra bearer and little more. And good ol' Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson once agains proves that he should stick to talking over music in rhyming couplets - that's rapping for the layman - because acting is clearly not his forte.

    But the film’s final – and fatal – mistake is to try to homage the final sequences of Heat. To explain myself fully would be to spoil the story for those of you still interested in going to see it, but suffice to say that instead of being an homage, it’s offensively derivative, to the point where I honestly considered storming out of the cinema. This is not the promised second coming – instead we are presented with a turgid, poorly paced police thriller with no surprises other than the indictment of a once great actor’s recent poor form. Avoid, unless you want to leave the theatre with a rather foul taste in your mouth.

    Rating: 4/10

    Eagle Eye (2008, D.J. Caruso)

    How D.J. Caruso’s Eagle Eye was able, or even keen to elude the “Summer blockbuster” window is anyone’s guess, for it is as untowardly showy as any work to hit our screens this Summer. Moreover, in keeping with the unfortunate tradition of many of those films, Eagle Eye is, for all of its visual effects and overblown set pieces, a narratively stodgy action thriller.

    The second that protagonist Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) appears on the screen, so do the clichés – his character is down on his luck, and we are very hastily asked to feel sorry for him at a stage in the film where it is impossible to know anything substantial about him as a person, and thus feel any empathy to his numerous troubles. Needless to say, the bathetic attempt at character development does not resonate. At all.

    Subtlety is not expected in a film like this, and fortunately, it works to the film’s strengths – it doesn’t take too long before Shaw is thrown into a wild situation in which he is framed for conspiring to commit a terrorist act, and is hauled in by the FBI. To stir the pot further, Shaw receives a warning phone call mere seconds before he is apprehended from a strangely prescient woman who ultimately saves Shaw from several big scrapes throughout the film. Thus, one must award Eagle Eye some points for intrigue – plenty is layered on, but regrettably, without much satisfying exposition at all.

    For such a flimsily constructed film, Eagle Eye sports an impressive cast, both in regard to star power and acting chops. LaBeouf makes a surprisingly convincing action hero, given his youthful appearance, although this is perhaps to the foil of the chemistry between himself and romantic interest Michelle Monaghan, who plays a single mother caught between the gunfire and explosions. Meanwhile, Billy Bob Thornton makes an ever-welcome appearance as a delightfully clichéd FBI agent, and Rosario Dawson and Michael Chiklis provide adequate supporting turns.

    The cast are, however, forced to contend with a script that is impossibly convoluted, in essence resembling the establishing scenes of The Matrix, yet setting them in a world that is so clearly intend to reflect our own. Moreover, the success of the narrative relies on so much coincidence and artifice that it creates a profound distancing effect toward the viewer.

    This is all the more a shame considering D.J. Caruso’s solid action direction, the invariable highlight of the film. Caruso has a talent for crafting intense and kinetic action scenes – it’s just a shame that his talents aren’t lent to something more substantial.

    Unfortunately, not even Caruso’s deft directorial hand can salvage a film that is fatally imbued with a laundry list of contrivances, waltzing into unintentional amusement by the half-way mark, namely as a man is spontaneously combusted by a fleet of strategically placed and implemented power cables.

    From here, things only get worse – Monaghan and LaBeouf’s characters become certifiable badasses in the blink of an eye, and by this stage, believing Looney Tunes is a markedly more reasonable expectation than the helplessly, shamelessly ridiculous plot of Eagle Eye.

    Not entirely empty-headed, Eagle Eye raises the same concerns of privacy and “big brother” that better films have, although adds little to this debate. At least in examining the passive danger of social networking sites, however, it is better suited to our time than films of decades past.

    Once the third act begins, any morsel of gritty realism is well and truly expunged by a stultifying chase between a plane and a car that takes place inside a tunnel, as well as some elements borrowed from science-fiction fare that don’t do this purported political thriller many favours.

    Eagle Eye is not a terrible film, simply a deeply flawed one, replete with shameless liftings from the likes of The Matrix and Enemy of the State. Not only content to be derivative, Caruso’s film also buckles under a narrative that does not play by its own rules – it establishes a realistic locale in which people have debt, family members die, and people are mourned, and then usurps this with barely a believable moment after the first act. The action crowd may find some visceral delight in the ridiculous action scenes (my favourite of which involves a plane blowing a big rig to smithereens), yet these scenes can be said to undercut and suffocate the film’s very real indictment of the powers that be and our individual lack of privacy. The film’s screenplay has a real voice, but you’d be hard-pressed to hear it over all of the explosions and contorting metal.

    Nevertheless, Caruso has not necessarily done himself a huge disservice – there is plenty of unintentional comedy to derive from Eagle Eye, and it is as well-directed and well-performed a piece of schlocky entertainment as you are likely to find.

    Rating: 5/10

    Quantum of Solace, (2008, Marc Forster)

    Is it unfair to judge a Bond film on the title music? Because if so, then I could well deliver a very harsh judgement upon Quantum of Solace. But I like to think I'm marginally more 'professional' than that, and despite the fact that it makes a poor impression of itself with the ridiculously overwrought title sequence - coupled with that music, of all things - it does at least attempt to redeem itself.

    The story is a direct continuation of Casino Royale - Bond's got Mr White, the man he kneecapped at the end of the previous movie, in the trunk of his car and he manages to get him somewhere where he can interrogated. The information discovered sets Bond on the trail of the mysterious organisation Quantum and the enigmatic Dominic Greene. Along the way, he joins forces with Camille, a mysterious and beautiful woman who's more than her first impressions might give away.

    And the story connection isn't the only thing from Casino Royale that this latest Bond movie takes advantage of - it also rides in on an absolutely incredible wave of hype thanks to Casino Royale's enormously successful reboot of the venerable franchise. But the problem is, no matter where you lay the blame - QoS not being good enough, CR being far too good - the fact of the matter is that after the high of Casino, Quantum simply fails to deliver...enough.

    And in all honesty, the problem is the director. Marc Forster simply isn't an action director, and if it isn't obvious in Quantum of Solace, then it's not obvious at all. Where most action movies have maybe a 60% 'hit rate' - that 'wow that was awesome' factor - QoS scores maybe 33%, with only 3 out of the many action beats bringing real satisfaction. The first, the pulse-pounding opening car chase, is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of vehicular carnage. It's not up there with the greatest car chases of all time, but judged on its own merits, it comes out shining. A rooftop chase through Siena, Italy was pretty difficult to screw up, and the supposed balletic climax that the trailer implied is neatly and enjoyably tossed out the window in favour of a far more amusing and interesting finish. Finally, there's a boat chase which, whilst borrowing heavily from the likes of Face/Off and Indiana Jones, still comes out the other end better for it.

    But then there are the other, slightly less engaging ones, and this is where it becomes clear that Forster was riding his luck, and barely got away with it. One in particular is bizarrely intercut with a performance of Tosca for seemingly no reason. If there's dramatic significance to it, it's completely lost on me but even if it weren't, it distracts from what could otherwise be a wonderfully choreographed piece of action, and at the end of the day, that's what Bond movies are - action movies. The finale, too, is simply too pacily edited to keep up with what's going on - taking a page from the Peter Berg school of climax film-making by trying to stitch two entirely separate pieces of action together in one scene. Instead of making us care about both, it instead means that there's absolutely no focus, and thus when we should be caring about one, we’re instead wondering what’s going on in the other part.

    It's particularly unfortunate that elsewhere, Forster's direction genuinely shines - because the drama portions are wonderfully staged. Daniel Craig delivers another broody and layered performance for Bond, wonderfully evolving the character to keep up with the progression of the story. Olga Kurylenko completely undermines her terrible performance in the abomination that was the Hitman movie adaptation to bring a tough and genuinely likeable Bond girl that is far more than just a pair of legs in a Little Black Dress. Judi Dench throws in a decent, albeit underused performance for M, with the woman looking genuinely hard-pressed to deal with the political fallout that Bond's roguish actions produce.

    Forster weaves all of the characters and the story together wonderful, which makes the bum notes in the action sequences all the more disappointing. Had he allowed someone competent in their own right to take charge of the second unit - as Danny Boyle did for 28 Weeks Later - then perhaps better action sequences could've been produced. As it stands, they're bum notes in what could've otherwise been a really rather great movie.

    At the end of the day, there's still enough here to like that you can't instantly dismiss Quantum of Solace, and if Casino Royale weren't the great film that it is, then this may well have made a better impression on me. But as the franchise stands at the moment, the very first true Bond sequel adheres to the oft broken rule of sequels - the second one is always inferior.

    Rating: 6/10

    Saw V (200, David Hackl)

    For the last three decades, horror fans have been gorged on seemingly interminable horror series such as Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street. 2004 saw the birth of a new horror series catering for the increasingly morbid curiosity of audiences, in the Saw franchise, delivering compelling, albeit tenuous moral deductions amid an inventive and gore-soaked dissection of various hapless cross-sections of society.

    Known for their winding, fragmented narratives that conclude with a deal-breaking twist, promotion for the fifth entry into the series attests “You won’t believe how it ends”. Quite how right this adage is, and quite how disappointed even the most ardent fans are likely to be, is astounding. Saw V not only inverts what made the previous films entertaining at a base level, but is an arbitrary and unnecessary installment that delivers only enough exposition to warrant the need for a sixth film.

    Following on from the disappointing fourth film, Saw V commences as new Jigsaw apprentice Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) attempts to tie-up all loose ends linking him to Jigsaw, namely in disposing of slippery Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson). To this effect, any morsel of moral complexity is gone in Saw V, diminishing the series to a simple killer goose-chase that is neither interesting nor even viscerally thrilling.
    Saw V is the only entry into the series that did not need to contest an NC-17 rating, and it is painfully evident. In removing the one reliable element from the series and teasing its gore-hound audience with quick-fire shots of the messy results of Jigsaw’s traps, there is little to excite (or terrify) even the most squeamish.

    Moreover, the film’s sloppy narrative only seeks to compound the myriad problems faced by helmer David Hackl who, to his credit, is able to convey a palatable, although merely intermittent, sense of mood, frequently truncated by the film’s excessive use of only superficially revelatory flashbacks. Saw V may seem to reveal plenty of the past of its characters, but it is mostly bloated full of hot air, and quite frankly, how much more do we really need to know?

    Running parallel with Strahm’s investigation is a new game instigated by Hoffman, involving five mysteriously linked individuals trapped inside a sewer system. Although this sub-plot is the least sigh-inducing portion of Saw V, it is still mired by poor acting, a smattering of unintentional comedy, and a complete lack of cohesion in relation to the film’s overarching narrative. Once the game plays out, and the painfully obvious truths are revealed, one really must consider what the point of it all was other than to pad out the sorely-malnourished plot.

    Hackl and Co. have plenty of opportunities in Saw V to appease their core audience with the expected thrills and spills, yet they seem more concerned with crafting their sloppy narrative, in a manner that is a flagrant slap in the face to those who have paid good money up until now, with fully-justified expectations of what they will experience each year. Given that the story is neither intricately-plotted nor complimentary to the gore, it is difficult to see Saw V as a success in most aspects.

    David Hackl deserves some credit as a director, however – he fulfills every visual expectation of a Saw film (even the annoyingly hyper-kinetic camerawork), and retains the series’ industrial noir aesthetic. Hackl’s efforts are, however, considerably diminished by an inept script, featuring woefully underdeveloped characters, and a lack of solid moral ambiguity (even by the standards of the series).

    When considered within the scope of the aforementioned horror series’ of yesteryear, Saw V is certainly not the failure that was Halloween 3: Season of the Witch or any later entry into the other two horror mainstays. However, if Saw IV was no indication enough, Saw V makes it evident that its creators are content with crafting a visually solid, but otherwise empty slew of films that provide only minor thrills to even the weakest of stomachs. It is not to say that Saw VI cannot redeem this entry, in that whilst Saw V is easily the worst of show, it is also mired (and curiously aided) by its staunch inertia, meaning that little of the series’ balance is upset, and simply put, this is a tiring precursor to the next film, which may answer the fleet of red herrings and questions thrown our way over the last five years.

    The Saw team could do far worse with their efforts, yet it is difficult to see how many can take this fifth episode seriously, particularly in its predictable, overblown, and down-right laughable finale that is better-suited to some of the flimsier Bond films of Pierce Brosnan’s tenure than a horror film. You certainly won’t believe how Saw V ends, but moreover, you won’t believe the whole package – veiling the gore as though finally embarrassed by itself, Saw V is no worse than the uninspired J-horror and 80s remakes flooding our screens every weekend, yet it is little better either.

    Rating: 5/10

    Quantum of Solace (2008, Marc Forster)

    Quantum of Solace, the 22nd James Bond film, is the first verifiable sequel entry into the Bond canon, hot off the heels of the hugely successful, highly refreshing dose that was Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale. Campbell introduced us to a less-polished, edgier, more psychologically complex Bond, and taking the reins for the second ride is Marc Forster, helmer of Oscar darlings Monsters Ball and Finding Neverland.

    Catching the hayride for a sequel is never an easy task, yet in considering that Casino Royale is held by many to be Bond’s best outing, Forster’s challenge is daunting at best. Quantum of Solace is a curiosity in many respects, not only for its 106-minute running time (making it the shortest Bond film), but for its adherence to many of the maligned and tired tropes of previous Bond films, although still managing to deliver enough thrills to entertain. Simply, Quantum of Solace is a disappointing follow-up to Casino Royale, but this is hardly surprising, or terribly detrimental.

    From the opening minute, Solace is action-packed and frenetically paced, taking little time for a breather in its first half. From a car chase, to a run-and-gun pursuit, to a speedboat chase (among many more), Bond (Daniel Craig) causes bedlam in over half a dozen countries in well under two hours, yet the whole affair can’t help but feel rather empty. Well-staged as the numerous chases are, Forster feels a tad lost in the shuffle, doubtless better suited to painstaking and contemplative dramatic pieces. There are numerous instances where Forster fails to focus fully on the action as he should, causing disorientation tantamount to the (comparatively unwarranted) criticism leveled against Paul Greengrass in the latter two Bourne films.

    Bond’s downtime is as minimal as possible in Solace, causing him to appear as little more than a blue-eyed Superman at times, particularly as Forster rarely lingers on any infliction of injury (contrary to Campbell’s attempts previously). Bond is dealt (and deals) far more punishment in Solace than in Royale, yet Forster never resolutely capitulates this reality, instead content to push the picture along at a daunting pace, in which Bond is considerably harder to identify with than he was in Royale.

    This is not to say that Solace is a poor film, because as an action film, it works far more than it does not. Aforementioned complaints considered, Marc Forster has an eye for the picturesque and the vibrant, and even in the action scenes, there are shots of commendable ingenuity (namely as Bond and an assailant are sent crashing through a glass roof). Furthermore, Solace relies largely on organic action and stunt work, making sparing use of CGI. Thus, as a sequence of glorious set pieces, Quantum of Solace is certainly an austere action picture, although marred by a disinteresting accompanying narrative.

    Bond’s quest to avenge the death of lover Vesper Lynd takes a back seat to a middling and rudimentary villain, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), who seeks to stage a coup in Bolivia for his own mysterious means. One must commend Marc Forster for opting not to adorn Greene with any grotesqueries (a crime that even Royale is guilty of), yet Amalric’s character is neither menacing nor particularly intriguing in any way. We realise his interests soon into the film, and beyond that, there is little complex or remotely unique about him, all the more the shame for Amalric, who performed so well in last year’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and deserves better.

    It seems to be recurrent throughout Solace that the cast give their best efforts, yet their characters are either undeveloped or simply left to percolate without anything to galvanise them into action. The Bond girls, Gemma Arterton and Olga Kurylenko, cement this perfectly – Kurylenko’s character parallels Bond in the most routine of means, in also looking to avenge a loved one, and it’s difficult to see what purpose Arterton’s “Fields” character serves at all.

    As hard as the supporting cast try, kudos must be meted out in greatest measure to Daniel Craig, who remains the most pronounced constant carrying over from Royale. Craig’s steely screen presence and snappy delivery mitigate the thug-like brutality of Bond, making his cause, in spite of all of its disproportionate destruction, something one can root for.

    At its conclusion, Solace feels like the difficult middle entry into a trilogy – it is eager to prove its worthiness as a sequel, yet remains compelled not to give enough away for the sake of what is to follow. Solace, at times, does not feel like a Bond film, but more a robust Summer action picture – it is Craig who gives the film much-needed gravitas, and Forster’s coverage, whilst occasionally hampered, is mostly solid and commendable for a director so seemingly out of his depth. Although expectedly failing to meet the highs of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace is higher-minded than most action pictures, features stellar performances (from Craig in particular), and given the film’s break-neck pace, it is certain to say that you will not be bored.

    Rating: 7/10

    Halloween (1978)

    There's no doubt about it... this is one of the truly great, classic horror movies and the film that defined a genre of thrills and chills that has remained dominant in the film industry ever since. Unfortunately, the good name of the Halloween franchise has been tarnished recently, with the release of Halloween: Resurrection in 2002, followed by Rob Zombie's heinous attempt to remake the original masterpiece last year.

    However, let's ignore the recent catastrophes and focus on the film that spawned a massive number of other successful series, from the Scream trilogy to the less-than-convincing rip off that was the Friday The 13th franchise. Set in the town of Haddonfield, Illinois in 1978, this film follows the journey of asylum escapee, Michael Myers, as he seems to aimlessly slay random teenagers on Halloween night, all the while closing in on his primary target and the woman who grew up to be labeled the "Modern Day Scream Queen", Jamie Lee Curtis, who puts in a sterling performance as the somewhat reclusive Laurie Strode.

    As well as JLC, this film also boasts the incredible acting skills of the late Donald Pleasance- a man who never put in a disappointing performance in his entire life- who stars as Michael's doctor, Sam Loomis, and the man who wants to destroy the "evil" once and for all.

    There's no glossing in this film. It's thrilling, suspenseful, creepy, tense and contains a killer soundtrack that still retains its dauntingly atmospheric grip even today. Unlike the slashers of modern day, this film is genuinely scary and manages to build a competent plot around intense thrills and a final chase scene that stands unmatched to this very day. If you only see one horror film in your life, Halloween is the one to watch.

    Rating: 9.5/10

    Body of Lies (2008, Ridley Scott)

    The main thing I was curious about with "Body of Lies" is what sort of film it would end up being. It could have been a post-Bourne action thriller, a serious dramatic thriller with a political edge ('Munich", 'Syriana'), one of those intolerably dull post-9/11 films ('Lions for Lambs'), or something like Ridley Scott's brother Tony's "Spy Game", a movie with an interesting premise and disappointing execution.

    I would argue that "Body of Lies" is the exact opposite on paper of "Spy Game". It's a movie with a questionable, sketchy premise and damn good execution. I'd always definitely preferred Ridley's sensibilities and films to Tony's, and his take on a story about a CIA agent working against agency politics is definitely superior as well, although a very, very large amount of my preference for "Body of Lies" comes from the script by "The Departed" scribe William Monahan. "Body of Lies" bizarrely manages to work as both a hugely entertaining, nifty action thriller and as a socially/politically-conscious drama. I can't believe I'm about to say this, but it really does go from "Syriana" to "The Bourne Identity" in a second, and does so without feeling ridiculous, contrived, or silly. It just somehow pulls it off, and I'm crediting Monahan with most of this success although Scott certainly handles the shifts in tone extremely well.

    All you should know about the story going in is that DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris, a CIA field agent in an important position in the middle east division, just below the leader of the division Ed Hoffman (played by Russell Crowe), a snarky, racist, and mostly unlikeable man who leads the missions remotely through his laptop and cellphone. Ferris uncovers a lead on a major terrorist leader potentially operating out of Jordan, and chooses to act on it, involving Jordanian intelligence leader Hani Salam, played brilliantly by Mark Strong. His performance is just the right side of slightly hammy, and works wonderfully well. There are twists and turns and it's a lot of fun.

    Now here's where I'm going to start sounding really bizarre: I know I just said it was a lot of fun, but there's a good amount of substance here and a good deal to be learned about middle-eastern politics (having lived there for many years, I can assure you that this film works as a primer on the mindset and cultural feel of the locations it is set in, and of the political system there. Its observations on Jordanian intelligence in particular are very much spot-on. There are scenes where the film gets really dark and serious, and they completely work as well. In particular, for a white American screenwriter's work, this is incredibly perceptive and understanding of how Jordanians act and feel. Something like "Rendition" from last year, while generally just not a good film, was also hopelessly inaccurate on just about everything. There was no work there, just a message the filmmaker wanted to send. With "Body of Lies", every second feels (and is) authentic and real (outside, perhaps, of some of the details of the espionage aspects, although the writer of the book it was based on was CIA), and there's even some cultural jokes completely in Arabic, untranslated on screen, that basically no non-Arabs will understand. It's a remarkably vivid, real portrait, and considering Hollywood's past of portraying Arabs generally in a 'dem Ayrabs, we America' way, which completely ignored the basic dress and attitude of real Arabs, something like this is refreshing.

    The movie isn't perfect, and there's a key scene at the end which feels very didactic and heavy-handed (although judging by the twentysomethings who left the theater talking about how cool one of the torture scenes was, even a message delivered this bluntly just isn't getting into their thick skulls), but it somehow gets away with being an enjoyable genre piece and a genuinely thought-provoking and perceptive film (but not one which focuses on these elements to the point of being overbearing), with actual understanding of mid-eastern politics and culture, wonderfully involving characters (including the refreshingly non-sexual love interest Aisha, played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani), and even a surprising sense of humor. "Body of Lies" is most definitely a cut above most in its (overall quite poor) sub-genre, and one of the biggest surprises of the year.


    Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008, Kevin Smith)

    Kevin Smith has done Zack and Miri before. Not in the sense that he's made a film about two people desperate for cash making porn, but he has tried to make a feel-good comedy like this before. But as a fairly bad omen for Zack and Miri, Jersey Girl was a horrendous, disgustingly soppy affair, with almost nothing to redeem it. Fortunately, whilst this latest entry into his canon does retain some of the sentimentality, it also decides '**** the schmaltz' and throws in a healthy dollop of Smith's trademark filthy banter. And even though this isn't up there with the heights of Dogma or Clerks 2, it does have a foul-mouthed charm that's hard to deny.

    Once again, the true star of the show is Smith's terrifically funny script. He's never been the flashiest of directors, and nowhere is it more evident than it is here - beyond the wonderfully grainy and deliberately slightly shoddy 'home video' moments, there's nothing of note to write home about. What does shine, however, is his cast's delivery of his script.

    The role of Zack was written specifically for Seth Rogen, and it certainly fits him like a glove. There's simply no way that he could've been anything other than Rogen's trademarked tubby-but-loveable-loser, and Rogen is truly outstanding - as he is wont to be as of late. There's something remarkable about the man, because anyone who can say 'let's make a porno!' and actually manage to make it sound like a good plan deserves quite a few kudos. Zack comes - excuse the pun - off as a genuinely nice a Smith-ianly crude kind of way.

    Elizabeth Banks is less strong in the role of Miri - the same wit is present, but only half the zest in the delivery. Perhaps she's better suited to the satire of W or the trademark comedy of Scrubs, but either way she isn't the best of fits here. She's not bad - there're simply better actresses for the role. But elsewhere there's some top notch performances going on. Craig Robinson is superb as the emasculated producer Delaney, his trash talk subdued yet incredibly funny, and Jeff Anderson seems to be growing under Smith's direction, putting in what could be classed as a genuinely decent performance - as opposed to the stand-up-with-extra-people-in-it that was Clerks and Clerks 2. He actually feels like a character instead of just Jeff Anderson.

    But it just has to be said again - the real spark is in the script, and whilst it does descend a little too far into the sentimentality barrel towards the end, there's more than enough hilarity ensuing - from the banter between Zack and Miri to the crude yet oh-so-funny set piece involving the other kind of sex - that you can actually forgive it this time, instead of Jersey Girl's leaving a sour taste in your mouth.

    Truth be told, the only real way to judge a comedy movie is to count how many times you laugh out loud. That count'd be about 15 for me. Essential for any Smith fans, and perhaps as good a segue as you'll get for any newcomers. It's not Clerks 2, but then again...what is?

    Rating: 4/5

    Max Payne (2008, John Moore)

    It's a movie adapted from a video game.



    Oh, you're still here? Right. Well, allow me to qualify. Max Payne is yet another in a long, long, long line of ridiculously disappointing game adaptations - but more so, considering the strength of the game that this one is based on. A film based on a game that borrowed heavily from the likes of John Woo and - the at-the-time new and fresh - The Matrix, it unfortunately suffers greatly from the facsimile effect - losing one hell of a lot of clarity in transmission.

    On paper, it should've worked...

    Director with at least decent action credentials and a tendency to treat 'adaptations' with the utmost care? Check - see the solidly entertaining Behind Enemy Lines and the remakes of The Omen and Flight of the Phoenix for what I mean.

    Actor who vaguely fit the role? Check.

    Segue of Mona Sax into the story? Check random check.

    But unfortunately, nothing fits together particularly well. There are individual bits that work well, but it is infinitely inferior to the sum of its parts, and it's part don't exactly add up to much.

    For starters - and for once - the story makes the transition to the big screen almost intact. It goes that Max Payne is a cop who has his whole family murdered by junkies - high and almost invulnerable after consuming a drug called Valkyr - and he's out for revenge on those responsible. After the case dead ends, his partner happens upon a coincidental piece of evidence that ties a seemingly random murder to that of Max's wife, and that sets him on the trail of the Aesir corporation - a large, morally suspect pharmaceutical company. The story is solid and constantly promises to be interesting, but first-time scribe Beau Thorne simply can't capitalise on it properly.

    But beyond that neo-noir aesthetic and some rather scathing zingers - both almost certainly thanks to the game's creative director Sam Lake's involvement - there's absolutely nothing to commend the script for. Most of the exposition is under-cooked, and complacency seems to have struck the character development ('His family got killed. Do we really need to develop him more?'). But not only is there absolutely no development of Payne throughout the movie, he genuinely comes across as completely empty, but in the bad way. There is one moment where he is actually properly characterised - a flashback sequence before his wife was murdered - but there's no link between that Max and the Max we have to endure for the majority of the film. The shoe-horning in of Mona as a more significant character is also half-arsed, and the addition of a sister character to try to make us invest emotionally in her is simply useless.

    What's more, there's a total dearth of action, and considering that the game was heavily action-orientated, and it was touted as an action-thriller, this is something of a sucker punch that you can't really recover from. What's more, it doesn't even manage to work on a balls-out-action level, seeing as we're force-fed Thorne's half-baked exposition for a good hour before we get to see any action.

    The really aggravating film is that when the action does spill out, it's fantastic. Moore has a great eye for visuals - from an awesome tracking shot of a man seemingly committing suicide, only to be revealed to be him being dragged out by a Valkyrie (or perhaps vice versa), to a fantastically shot roof-top showdown, he really does quite a lot with such sparse opportunity. You get the feeling that had this been put in safer scripting hands, Moore could've done a lot more with it.

    It's even more of a shame that - shoddy characterisation aside - Mark Wahlberg does actual throw in a decent portrayal of Payne, chewing his way through his lines with suitable grit and determination. Mila Kunis is surprisingly good as Mona Sax - she manages to pull of sexily dangerous, despite her pixie-like construction - and Beau Bridges, though pathetically cast in a the role of someone called 'B.B', pulls of his character with a decent amount of conviction.

    In closing, Max Payne the Movie is very much a child of the writer's strike, because in the hands of a more capable writer – perhaps even if Sam Lake himself had taken over entirely - this may well have gone down a treat. As it stands, clumsy exposition and under-cooked characters, along with a total lack of satisfying violence make for a something that doesn’t even register on a guilty pleasure level. But importantly, it isn’t a step backwards for video-game adaps; it’s just disappointing that it so closely flirted with being a forward one.

    Rating: 2/5
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