Persona (1966, Ingmar Bergman)
Persona is, to say the least, a challenging film, and considering the film is now over forty years old, I consider that an astounding achievement on Bergman's part, to create a piece of art that still dumbfounds, baffles and intrigues people after so long. It's a film that is difficult to summarise, as it's open to a multitude of interpretations, and is so multi-stranded that to attempt to condense it likely won't do Bergman's piece justice.
The film begins by breaking the fourth wall immediately, showing us various film equipment in flashes, a Brechtian device in a sense, letting us know that this is indeed a film. From this, we are shown many quick flashes - notably an erect penis and the word "START" from the beginning of a film projection, and following this, also a short cartoon clip. An animal is then shown being brutalised and disembowelled, and a hand is nailed to the floor, all before the opening credits. From the outset, Persona is incredibly surreal.
A boy is then shown in bed, and sits up to read, and is presented by a blurred face staring at him - is this face a window into some sort of other world that we are presented for the majority of the film? Is everything we see some sort of mental manifestation of the boy's mind? To say that a great deal of enigma is dredged up very quickly in this film is an understatement. At this point, even the most hokey-sounding theory could hold some credence.
The basic premise of Persona is that Alma, a nurse, is sent to tend to Elizabeth, an actress who has become a mute, although appears to be exhibiting no signs of otherwise abnormal behaviour - she is sane in every sense of the word. Whilst Alma makes the natural attempts to ask Elizabeth questions, she recieves no response, and instead, as Bergman has stated himself, the film relies heavily on the facial expressions of Andersson to convey feeling and some form of a response.
More and more questions are quickly piled into the mix, in that the brief glimpse we get at Alma's personal life at this stage makes her life seem rather empty, and even at this point it's not a far cry to guess from the way that Alma talks to herself that she is highly intrigued by Elizabeth's not speaking. It's a valid question, though - why is Elizabeth not talking? Her psychiatrist deems that her inertia is a "fantastic system", and claims that she in some way wants to be seen through. Perhaps this is some sort of shot at psychology by Bergman, I can't be certain, but needless to say, even as I write this review, I'm unsure as to whether the psychiatrist was right.
Alma and Elizabeth then proceed to take a trip to the doctor's cottage, where Elizabeth is considerably more receptive and cheerful, bonding with Alma, although still failing to speak. She will occasionally answer in nods, and they have some sort of physical bond that allows them to essentially communicate in some sort of base reciprocal fashion. It's at this point that the most interesting and important scene of the film takes place - Alma opens up to the silent Elizabeth about her life and her relationships, and judging by Elizabeth's facial expressions, she appears genuinely interested, but is either unable to or doesn't want to chime in.
Curiously, this relationship develops rather deeply rather quickly, with Alma proclaiming Elizabeth to be "the sister she never had", and the rapport, the dialogue between these two individuals could be said to be something of a "pre-Tarantino". It has that same infectious and highly-engrossing quality yet is essentially pretty inconsequent in relation to the plot. Elizabeth is essentially a sordid diary for Alma, and Alma begins to invest a great deal of trust in Elizabeth, telling her stories of her underaged sex affairs and her infidelity. The great attraction of Elizabeth to Alma appears to be that she cannot speak, and as such cannot tell anyone these secrets. At this point, it seems, at least to a point, that Alma loses all concern or interest in helping Elizabeth to speak. Alma proclaims she wishes to be two persons at once, and perhaps through essentially utilising Elizabeth as a vestibule to dump her dirty laundry, Alma is two people, especially if you consider this idea within the context of the events to follow.
There is also something of sexual, or perhaps more sensual, tension between the two. In a similar vein to David Lynch's recent Mulholland Drive (not least that one character is an actress), the two seem to have some deep understanding of one another, and at this stage at least, it appears very loving, and similarly to the aforementioned, the relationship takes something of a dark nosedive. It really never becomes clear whether the physical aspect of this relationship is overt or even reciprocal - one scene in particular where Alma intimately examines the contours of Elizabeth's face could be entirely non-sexual, a one-sided sexual fantasy, or a reciprocal sexual attraction that is hindered by Elizabeth's inability to speak. The fact that by this point, Alma is somewhat obsessed with Elizabeth (an obsession seemingly totally unmarked by sexuality, other than Alma's slight remark that Elizabeth is attractive) makes it difficult to pinpoint the sexuality of the relationship
It becomes clear not far from this moment that there is the possibility that Alma is insane. She swears to hear Elizabeth not only speak, but enter her room and interact with her, yet Elizabeth denies this with a shake of her head. At this stage, one cannot also rule out the possibility that Alma is dreaming.
Alma is finally able to gain something of an insight into Elizabeth's mindset by reading one of her letters to her doctor. Whilst the contents of the letter miff Alma somewhat, it is clear that Liz is an insightful, intelligent human being, whilst Alma is exposing herself as more and more unbalanced and emotional. If not clear to the viewer before this point, it should now be recognisable that whilst this is a verbally intellectual film, some of its more vital and truthful moments are espoused by actions and written verbiage, which is a feat by and large unmet since, and likely never perfected as masterfully as Bergman does here.
An important scene follows, where Alma's obsession with hearing Elizabeth's voice continues to grow, to the point of leaving broken glass where Elizabeth will walk, perhaps unconsciously, which barely gets a small whimper out of Elizabeth, much to Alma's disdain. Following this moment, the two stare at each other, and then the mysterious world these two live in again begins to break down into another surreal montage of imagery shown to us at the outset. When we return, Alma is gone, and Elizabeth is searching for her, eventually finding her in different attire at the beach. Was that interlude the missing reel in a film being made (an idea postulated by the brief shot of a camera crew in the closing moments of the film), or was it just some incongruent glitch in the mind of whoever was dreaming this (perhaps the boy shown at the start of the film)? Again, Persona is a film that raises many questions without many easy answers.
Elizabeth ultimately begins to find a sense of serenity in the cottage, a huge leap from her lethargic, hopeless self at the film's opening. Conversely, Alma is becoming increasingly tiresome, and seems hopeful that Elizabeth will soon want to leave, but her not wanting to do this can be seen as the catalyst in an intense argument between the two. Alma feels used and berated, particularly angered at Elizabeth writing about Alma's morally bankrupt escapades in the letters to her doctor. This tirade eventually becomes physical, and only once Alma makes a highly dangerous advance does Elizabeth utter one word - "stop". Whilst this seems to sate Alma briefly, it doesn't quiet her obsession, and only seems to feed the idea that Alma is in fact mentally unstable. Whilst deeming Elizabeth as false to the point where Elizabeth storms off, Alma moments later attempts to apologise, in a somewhat pathetic fashion blaming herself and breaking down. Once again, Liz, initially deemed to be the abnormal one, is reasoned, simply attempting to distance herself from someone being abusive to her, whilst Alma, initially seen as the "helper" and stable person, is something of an indecisive mess, and it makes for a gloriously telegraphed role reversal.
The true turn of the film comes as Alma and Elizabeth begin to merge into one person, namely indicated by a visit from Elizabeth's husband, who, proclaiming Alma to be his wife, has intimate relations with her, whilst "Liz" (as she seems to be some sort of a manifestation at this point) sits by silently, showing what is best described as marked apathy.
Arguably the most wonderful and iconic scene in the film involves Alma verbally attacking Liz, detailing Liz's pregnancy to her, heavily suggesting that Alma knows this because Liz knows this, in that they are in fact one and the same. Liz's inability or not wanting to speak had up to this point worked as a wonderful means of defence - she could learn much about Alma without having to reciprocate, yet this backfires, as when Alma runs this scathing criticism, all Elizabeth can do is pull faces, which appear to be either worry, sadness or shame, or perhaps an amalgam of all three - I'm not quite sure yet. What makes this scene so remarkable is that once Alma's speech is over, she repeats it again, although whilst the first time the majority of the shots focused on Elizabeth's face, this time they focus on Alma's face, and so we get some sort of a dichotomous criticism. Alma was at first scowling at the Elizabeth portion of herself, and now this time she's either criticising herself, or validating to the Alma portion of herself what has been said.
Alma from this point tries to convince herself she's not Elizabeth, and whether or not she is, it would be fair to say that by this point, Alma is not of sound mind, and the idea that she is perhaps insane has great weight. Furthermore, Alma's further irrational behaviour - hitting the table repeatedly, speaking incoherently, and rather disturbingly cutting her wrists all contribute to this theory.
As the film draws to a close, and we are shown glimpses of a camera crew, and the young boy from twice previously, there are a number of theories as to quite what has transpired in the last 80 minutes, and as Alma boards her bus, one is taxed with another question - is Alma escaping from Elizabeth? Elizabeth is now left alone, but more importantly, which side is real, and which one, if either, is disappearing for good?
Whilst this was more of an analysis of Bergman's existential classic than a review, Persona is a highly intellectual and intriguing film that likely requires multiple viewings to both fully appreciate and attempt to understand. After one viewing, whilst left somewhat miffed at some parts, I was impressed by the cinematography - this is arguably the greatest use of close-ups in cinema history, in that they are vital in telling us what Elizabeth is thinking and feeling. Persona is a film that people will still be talking about for decades to come, and especially with the recent death of Bergman, I feel bestowed to declare - rightly so.
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Film Reviews Thread watch
- 09-09-2007 04:53
- 09-09-2007 04:54
Redline may very well be a contender for the worst film of 2007 - yes, it's arguably even more abhorrent than Epic Movie. The opening moments of the film involve a man being challenged to drive a four-hour trip in under two hours to transport a supply of Viagra to a struggling entrepreneur, if you catch my drift. I assumed that this would be the rather awful premise for Redline, but fortunately, this plot thread is quickly taken care of in a horrifically-edited montage.
It becomes apparent from about three minutes into this film that so much of the budget was spent on the cars that there was little left for a decent screenwriter - the dialogue is so inane, so mindlessly trite that it causes one to presume that a room of writers sat around a table, each writing dialogue for a different character, with the person in charge of Eddie Griffin's lines in particular being inexorably more intoxicated than the others.
One of the small victories to take away from Redline is that at least the car chases are largely organic, other than the shots from within the car, where that margarine-like smear effect made all too familiar in the Fast and the Furious series is put to use. Unfortunately, it's difficult to enjoy these cars whizzing along the road when it's all accompanied by a truly dire flavour-of-the-week soundtrack.
It isn't too long before the laughable soap opera subplots are piled on - Natasha Martin (the rather sultry Nadia Bjorlin) has endured personal tragedy in her life recently, yet it doesn't work in the slightest when we don't care about the character, and that's quite worrying considering Natasha is by far the most personable character in this schlock.
From here, Redline seems to follow the formula of a car chase, followed by a soap-opera interlude, back to another chase, and so on. The street chases tend to consist of ridiculously-expensive cars tearing around town with little consideration for public property or safety, whilst, in one instance, Eddie Griffin's character is somehow able to watch the entire thing on a video stream, yet I saw no car-mounted camera...
When it's not racing or dwelling on moments of melodrama, Redline is normally reminiscent of something you would see on MTV Bass - slow motion, preposterously dressed males, and attractive, if alarmingly svelte women washing cars, ensuring to douse themselves in as much water as possible.
There are occasional moments were Redline is so bad that it's, well, not good, but amusing, such as Natasha singing a song about cars with her band, the lyrics of which are truly laughable. In far less amusing fashion, though, at times, this film seems to *******ise the genius "split-boxes" concept made famous on the hit FOX show 24, cutting between these boxes in such a hackneyed fashion that the viewer has no time to take in the information on the screen - it's used for crude music video-esque effect and nothing more.
Natasha, the adept driver herself, is invited to a race soon enough, and following some hilariously contrived words of sage advice from one of her band members to allay her doubts, she decides that she will race. The results of this race are simultaneously the most entertaining and guffaw-inducing of the entire 90-minute running time - her opposition, the preposterous-looking Jason (Jesse Johnson), meets a rather unfortunate fate, accompanied with dramatic music, slow-motion, and the driver's brother screaming "No!".
The rest of Redline is the seeming fallout from this incident - Angus Macfayden's pathetically desperate character drools over Natasha, and Jason's brother, Carlo (Nathan Phillips) seeks to acquire as many weapons and explosives as possible before heading out to avenge his brother, whose death was supposedly caused by Macfayden. These threads predictably intertwine, and it's not long before our star-crossed lovers (yes, they all too-quickly become star-crossed lovers) have the odds stacking up against them.
Following Redline's ridiculous finale, and despite all of the trouble caused by street racing in this film, nobody seems to have learned anything about the irresponsibility of street racing, and our supposedly "moral" heroes expound this idiocy as they continue to violate the law and endanger lives as the credits roll. Disgusting.
An empowering sense of glee came over me when Redline was over - glee that I wouldn't have to sit through another minute of this dreck. The film doesn't inspire us to care for a second, and bored entrepreneurs placing silly bets on races doesn't make for particularly entertaining viewing, at least in my book. The only thing Redline has going for it is the cars, and the fact that they, quite surprisingly, didn't decide to render them in CGI, as that's one of the few things that could have made this worse. Some of the car chase cinematography is palatable, but is unfortunately mired by hack and slash editing that, at its best, irritates, and at its worst, infuriates. Despite the eye-rolling dialogue, some of the performances aren't too bad (namely Bjorlin and Phillips), but Eddie Griffin's incredibly annoying turn-in has too much weight here, rendering the other performances almost null and void as a result. In fact, even Chris Tucker's high-pitched wailing in the Rush Hour series is arguably more pleasant to the ears than Griffin, and that's saying something.
To conclude, Redline is a bad, bad film. Sometimes it manages to be laughably bad, but for the most part, it's just plain bad.
- 09-09-2007 04:56
It's no secret that the majority of game-to-film adaptations have been either horrendously cheesy (Super Mario Bros) or just down-right awful (see: any film by Uwe Boll). Resident Evil, however, is one of two great examples (the other being Silent Hill), where classically speaking, the film is highly flawed, but as far as fan service goes, it's top-notch.
Resident Evil is a highly successful computer game series (of which I am a huge fan), where the player must trawl through a number of dingy locales, attempting to evade zombies, mutated dogs, and other enemies that become larger and more imposing as the game continues. In computer game circles, it was highly innovative as being the first definitive entry into the "survival horror" genre, and the series has since spawned 4 direct sequels and countless other spin-offs.
Paul W.S. Anderson is no stranger to adapting computer games - he also directed the entertaining guilty pleasure Mortal Kombat, yet one was slightly miffed when Anderson was quoted as commenting that he never made it past the "first level" of Resident Evil, a game that doesn't even have levels! Purportedly, he later confessed that he just watched a number of cut scenes from the first game as his research. Considering that Anderson also wrote this film, this goes a way to explain why it isn't particularly faithful at all to any of the games, although to be fair to him, he still makes a pretty damn entertaining film here.
Resident Evil very quickly establishes itself as some sort of a hark back to the days of classic B-movies, with some fairly cheesy dialogue and acting, particularly from a man splashed with coffee in the opening moments of the film. This B-movie vibe is something recurrent almost entirely through the film, and I have to say that I found it quite charming. I have my doubts as to whether Anderson knew that he was propagating such a feeling, but regardless, it works a real treat. It's not quite "so bad it's good", mind.
The film's prologue explains that the mysterious Umbrella corporation are the largest commercial entity in the US, and how they have their fingers in a number of different, potentially dangerous, pies. From here, a pounding industrial rock soundtrack kicks in (which I found to actually be rather well-crafted by Marilyn Manson of all people) and the action gets started. We are shown "The Hive", an underground research facility that is sabotaged with a deadly virus in the film's opening moments, causing the Hive's mainframe computer (named "The Red Queen", a preposterous-looking hologram of a child with a British accent) to shut down everything and exterminate all of the Hive's 500 workers as a means of containing the incident.
Following a truly hilarious death where one remaining worker is killed by a lift, we're introduced to Alice (Jovovich), a security guard placed outside the Hive to protect it, who was gassed unconscious when everything went haywire, and as such has temporary amnesia. Soon enough, she's grabbed by Matt, a rather shady-looking man that claims to be a cop, and a commando team burst through the windows, grabbing Alice and Matt by the scruffs of their necks and taking them into the Hive. They quickly meet the equally-shady Spence here, also wracked with amnesia, and the roll call for Zombie Survival 101 is complete. We learn here that the crack commando team's mission is to shut down the homicidal Red Queen.
Needless to say, such a task proves more difficult than they ever imagined, as they are met with various traps and attempts by the Red Queen to stop them. The much talked about laser room scene is the highlight of the film, where a number of lasers fire through a hallway (culminating in an inescapable laser net, dicing everything in sight), ultimately killing half of the commandoes before they even reach the Red Queen. It's clear from this scene that either the Red Queen is some sort of sadist, deciding to fire a number of lasers rather than killing all of the commandoes in one fell swoop with the "laser net", or is simply a fool (or rather, firing a net of lasers and killing everyone within seconds wouldn't be quite as exciting, film-wise). What bemused me most was that one notably stupid character could simply have stepped back a few feet as the final net approached and he would have lived.
The surviving members soldier on naturally apprehensively and reconvene with the other crew members (yes, horror cliché #55 - splitting up is always a good idea), before being waylaid by an army of the undead, resulting in a rudimentary shootout montage, put to more industrial rock music. As can be expected, the smarmy, irritating commando is eaten for his sins, and others are bitten, providing the obvious set up for their later turning.
Following this scene, the commandoes notice that the bodies from the laser room have disappeared, and I thought this a nice little reference to the games, in that if you leave a room full of bodies and re-enter it later, due to the relatively low processing power of the PlayStation, the bodies will not appear this time. It's completely ludicrous within the scope of a film, but it was a nice nod to fans of the games.
After splitting up, resulting in half of the team being diced, and further losses being incurred in the zombie shootout, one would hope that the characters would exercise a little tact, but alas, two characters slink off on their own, and even more ridiculously, one saunters off to pursue his own little subplot without uttering a word to anyone.
At this point, the film becomes even more ridiculous, as Alice, on her own, is set on by a pack of Cerberus ("Demon dogs"), and fortunately for her, has recalled enough of her memory to realise that, oh yeah, she can deliver Superman-like moves to her aggressors.
Once the anti-Umbrella freedom fighter subplot is quickly nudged aside, the film moves into its final stages, and much like most of the game, presents the element of a time limit. Our heroes have little over an hour to escape the Hive or they'll be sealed down there forever, and so the heroes continue their escape, now venturing through the sewer system, where we meet some familiar faces, shall we say
In what can only be described as deus ex machina, Alice manages to now (again, extremely conveniently) remember that there is an antidote for the infection that has ravaged one crew member especially. Before anyone can reach said antivirus, though, a twist is thrown our way for good measure, quite similar to the twist in the first game, which should please fans somewhat. This twist presents us with another antagonist other than the mutated "licker" creature that is already after them, although this new enemy is only around long enough to create another obstacle for our heroes to battle through.
This "licker" that I speak of is one of the more lauded antagonists from the second Resident Evil game, although slightly different in appearance in this film, and furthermore, unlike the game, this licker mutates every time it feeds on human DNA. We get some fairly close glimpses of the licker, and whilst I will generally defend this film to the hilt, the CGI is fairly hokey-looking, I will give you that. It does help the aforementioned B-movie feel to the film, though.
From here, everything sets up rather neatly for the finale - a long-thought dead character returns (although their return was highly predictable), and just as the heroes are making it home free, they are waylaid one final time, resulting in a few surprising character deaths and infections.
The dust barely has time to settle before all hell breaks loose once more, in what is best described as a 70s science-fiction throwback, bright white lights and all, setting up rather nicely for the horrifically bad sequel (Resident Evil Apocalypse).
In the final moments of the film, as the one character able to escape this mess unscathed stands alone in the center of Raccoon City, we learn the true extent of the carnage that the virus has caused, with an impressive closing shot that really gives a sense of scale to the mayhem that has ensued here.
As a friendly note, some of you may be compelled to very quickly change the channel or turn off the DVD once the credits hit, as all you'll be treated to is a wealth of "angry rock" from the likes of Slipknot and Coal Chamber, something I'm not too against myself, but I know that lots of people are.
In closing, Resident Evil is a deeply flawed film, I have no reservations about that - it is cheesy, acted with indifference, the characters are uniformly silly, it utilises a number of clichés, and relies on coincidence far too much. However, one must remember that the original Resident Evil game held many of these, dare I say, qualities - the dialogue was horrendously cheesy, not helped by the truly dire voice acting, but it to a degree made the games as popular as they were. It was a revolutionary title for its time, and so these faults were embraced gleefully as part of the B-movie inspired fun, rather than hugely detrimental to the enjoyment of the game.
That's not to say that all of the flaws should be ignored because the original game glorified many of these foibles, but one must remember that there's a lot of good in here too - it captures the feel of the games well, even despite the storyline being an almost entire deviation from them. The industrial soundtrack helps to create a tense mood, and Marilyn Manson in particular should be praised for his work here - his "Seizure of Power" theme (used in the laser scene) is near enough burned into my mind now. For all of the film's flaws and good points, whether you love it or hate it, just know that this is the high point of the series (so far) - the sequel was just offensive, and the third film doesn't look miles better either.
- 09-09-2007 04:59
Rise: Blood Hunter
Rise: Blood Hunter opens in a way that does not inspire much interest at all. Utilising the classic gimmick of showing scenes later in the film for virtually no reason, we witness some pseudo torture-porn shtick that did nothing but dredge up memories of the pretty passable Hostel: Part 2. As we witness Lucy Liu saving a hooker from certain death, sending her on her way and uttering "find a real job", one really has to laugh.
Following a "6 months ago" title card, we meet Sadie Blake (Liu), a reporter for some semi-trashy magazine. Soon enough, she gets talking to a computer hacker friend of hers, who, following some largely ridiculous and falsified computer jargon, finds a curious address embedded in a web page. Sadie naturally refuses to investigate at first, but that doesn't last long.
The scene then shifts to a rather dilapidated-looking house, where two teenage girls enter and are subsequently beset upon by some monstrous vampires. We have false scares, we have the ever-popular "hide in the closet and have the antagonist look like he's found you, but then turn away at the last second" spiel, and frankly, I was just happy to see one of the girls eaten.
Soon enough, Clyde Rawlins (Chiklis) shows up, the father of one of the girls. Seeing his daughter's friend eaten, he assumes his daughter has met a similar fate. He shows a real emotion, and being infinitely impressed with his performance on the superb FX show The Shield, I was somewhat disheartened when we were promptly taken back to the meat of the apathy-inspiring plot (something which happened to Chiklis far too much in the first hour of this film).
From here, Sadie investigates the address, and is promptly kidnapped, raped, and murdered. Soon enough, she awakens in a morgue, and it appears that she is now a member of the undead, finding it instinctively incumbent to murder and feast upon a member of the living as soon as she's awake. Following a rather gutsy attempt at finishing herself off, Sadie is nursed back to health by an absurdly pigeon-holed mentor-esque character. Whilst this relationship is essentially just a means of driving the plot and is otherwise throwaway, the mentor does have some interesting morals - "no one is innocent", he proclaims. I'm not sure if I'd agree, but there you go. As you can gather, from this moment the film is simply a revenge flick with vampires.
The transition of Liu's character from a helpless, victimised journalist to an ass-kicking, one-liner quipping heroine was literally blink-and-you'll miss it. It wasn't convincing at all, considering one minute she's very solemn whilst chatting with her mentor, and moments later, she harpoons a vampire through a window, gets some vital information from him, and gives him another harpoon through the chest for good luck. There's absolutely no progression or character development, and her bravura temperament was too much too soon.
So, we return to the opening scene, letting us know for sure that there was absolutely no need for it to be shown twice (it wasn't misrepresented as it was in, say, Mission: Impossible 3), and that it was just a gimmick.
The most interesting scene in Rise comes when Sadie is in need of new blood to feed on, and sees a hitchhiker she could feast on. At this point, there's an intriguing moral dilemma (the only one in the film, unfortunately) - does she kill this innocent man and feast on him, or was her mentor correct, in that there are no innocent people? Naturally, the morality of this scene is pretty much ruined by the fact that when she initially doesn't pick him up, he yells profanities, then when she does pick him up, he smokes cannabis. I still saw him as an innocent person (as since when did smoking cannabis and swearing make you either a bad person or worthy of being killed?), and it seemed to me like there was some sort of moralistic value being espoused there that really didn't sit comfortably with me at all. Had this hitchhiker simply been wanting to get from A-to-B and she killed him, without him exhibiting any "negative" traits, then the scene would have been infinitely more effective. It's worth noting that the Sadie character didn't seem to care about his weed, although that could be because she wanted to feast on him, and moreover, it was more the views of writer and director Gutierrez that I was referring to.
Following on from this, we encounter the rather forgettable antagonist's butler, played by Mako of all people. He claims to be unafraid of death, yet this doesn't stop him from surrendering a few important tidbits before popping his clogs. It's not long before Bishop, the only villain left for Sadie to slaughter, becomes aware of her return to the land of the living, and in a phone call utters to her the wonderful cliché - "you're not so different, you and I".
Michael Chiklis is finally given the screen time he deserves in the final third of the film, where he gives chase to Bishop, essentially becoming something of an obstacle for Sadie. Whilst they both have the same goal in sight, their methods vary wildly, teetering on different sides of the law. Predictably, an uncomfortable partnership forms, and there's even a hint of sexual tension, but fortunately, it doesn't transpire into anything else.
Sadie and Rawlins head into the final showdown, Sadie allowing Rawlins to follow her on the condition that he carries out one final act once Bishop is dead. A predictable surprise follows, and a not-so-predictable one after that, after which the situation gets very messy for our protagonist (no pun intended). Whilst the showdown ends ultimately as you'd expect, the film doesn't chicken out on its macabre little pact between Sadie and Rawlins, and so the ending happens to be quite satisfying.
Rise is a rudimentary little vampire horror film that will entertain its target audience, but others may find it simply nothing new in frankly already overcrowded canon. A lot of limited releases are simply under-seen masterpieces, whilst others are limited for a reason. Go figure.
- 09-09-2007 05:00
Rush Hour 3
The Rush Hour series, up to this point, is essentially cliché-riddled buddy cop fare that, whilst obnoxious to the point of lunacy (mostly thanks to the insufferable Chris Tucker), is actually considerably more enjoyable than you'd expect. The action scenes are thrilling, the chemistry between the two leads authentic, and overall, these films are just 85 minutes of silly fun.
I was intrigued at the bad press the third film has received, and more to the point, I had to disagree with the majority of the critical opinion. Whilst the third entry into this series is ridiculous, and shows sure signs of an already formulaic series wearing thin, it is no-less overblown and crazy than the previous two instalments, and just as fun
Ratner wastes no time at all in reminding us just how irritating Chris Tucker's James Carter can be, his usual high-pitched shrieking piercing our ear drums mere seconds into this film. I couldn't help but laugh, though, as when two white women are involved in a car crash with a black man, Carter is very quick to both lambast the white women, and ensure that the black driver is fine (and subsequently attempt to date the white women). Jokes like this are rudimentary and unsubtle, but I laughed at the absurdity of it - Tucker is so flagrantly annoying, and if he's aware of this, then in some twisted sense, he's a genius.
The premise is much the same as previously with a few variables reworked - Carter is now a traffic cop, and Lee (Chan) a bodyguard to Ambassador Han (Tzi Ma, returning from the first film). It's not long before an attempt is made on Han's life (which is narrowly unsuccessful), and soon enough, Lee is once again running at full speed, jumping around like, as John McClane would say, a "hamster", performing death-defying stunts. Lee is stultified to discover the assassin to be his godbrother, and mere seconds before he's about to bite the bullet, he's saved by Carter, throwing the two back into an uncomfortable partnership (given how the two haven't spoken in 3 years due to Carter wounding Lee's then-girlfriend). In short, it's much the same as before, but that need not be to the film's detriment, namely as it pertains to the outrageous stunt-work and fight choreography, which is as fresh, fun and visually-astounding as ever
Soon enough, Ambassador Han's rather fetching daughter shows up, now a fully grown woman (played by a different actress from the first film, I add), and it's not difficult to guess that she'll become the damsel-in-distress by the film's climax. Furthermore, either by means of consummate professionalism and respect, or by means of their libido (I'm sure you can work out which is which), Lee and Carter make a promise to her to capture those complicit in her father's shooting. As you can see, it's cliché, cliché, cliché.
Lee and Carter investigate a number of fruitless threads (including a pretty funny incident at a martial arts studio with the much-advertised "Yu?" gag, and an appearance by basketball giant Sun Ming Ming), and are beset upon by a gang of assassins (at which point we discover that Han's daughter is predictably quite the adept fighter herself). Whist interrogating one of the assassins, they discover that he is a French-speaking Asian (so at least the film usurps one stereotype rather than seeking to reinforce them all), and it's not long before Lee and Carter jet off to Paris to investigate further, a destination which, given the running time, took a little too long to get to.
I find it incumbent at this point to make comment on the surprising appearances from Max Von Sydow and Roman Polanski in Rush Hour 3. If you were to ask me "Guess which two men, one a famous actor, and one a famous and a highly controversial director, had minor appearances in Rush Hour 3?", my answer would have been along the lines of Will Smith or Jet Li, and as it pertains to the latter, probably Eli Roth or someone. Sydow's ever-recognisable voice is pleasant to hear as always, and he plays a more involved role than you might expect, something which I shan't give away. Polanski's role as a French police inspector is more or less a cameo, and merely something for film aficionados to feel smug about when they spot him.
Insane acrobatics, femme fatale characters and a host of other quirky personalities aside, perhaps the most impressive, and certainly the most memorable (for myself, at least) portion of the film was the scintillating, if disappointingly brief car-chase, which exhibits a number of ridiculously over-the-top wheel stunts and balancing acts. It was extremely fun, and given the absurd nature of the chase, quite original also.
After what loosely resembles a plot plays out, we get to our finale - there's the aforementioned damsel-in-distress, the well-meaning but clumsy protagonists, and the evil enemy, who just happens to have this familial tie to Lee. Everything converges atop the Eiffel Tower, where an impressively-shot standoff takes place, making it all the more unfortunate that this set-piece crumbles in its closing moments. We have an uncharacteristically redemptive villain in his final moments, and an unnecessary, and at times crude-looking use of CGI that caused me to step back and think to myself "Wait, this is a film". Considering this film is pure escapism, for it to invite feelings such as that is not encouraging. Also, after one final additional conflict, one final cliché is forced down our throats - that "let's fire a gun and not show who has been shot for a few seconds" technique that is criminally overused in Hollywood.
Ultimately, everything ties up nicely and an amusing gag reel accompanies the credits, and that's a rap. Despite my recent dislike for Ratner over his comments on critics and moreover, his views on arty films (or "pretentious arty films" as he called them), and whilst this does absolutely nothing new for an already pretty bloated genre, the set pieces are delightfully well-made and at times the film can be quite funny. I just hope that Ratner and company aren't blinded by the green and have the good sense to let sleeping dogs lie in regard to this series.
- 09-09-2007 05:01
Saw is a film that will, virtually from the opening frame, reward viewers with a keen eye, and whilst much can be predicted from this twisty thriller if you keep your eyes peeled (the first scene is more important than you may at first realise), there's a lot that will quite simply knock you for six. I don't care who you are - you're probably not going to see this film's climax coming, and even if you managed to guess it, it was either a fluke or you're in the very, very small percentage of people who did.
The film begins with two men - Lawrence (Elwes), a doctor, and Adam (Whannell), a photographer, waking up in a grotty bathroom, their feet chained to pipes, with no discernible means of escape. Furthermore, a dead body lies between them, having presumably shot themselves. Whannell, both actor and screenwriter in this escapade, wastes no time in quipping the amusing one-liners, such as "I just went home to my ****hole apartment and woke up in an actual ****hole". Bear in mind that Saw isn't one of those horrors, in that the humour is usually a brief interlude between the carnage, and moreover, this humour is decidedly dark and nihilistic.
It is clear early on that nobody will be winning any acting accolades for this film - Whannell is a first-time actor and as such falters at the usual pitfalls, whilst even veteran Elwes seems to struggle in finding his character. Elwes begins the film with an extremely deep voice that seems about as farcical as you can get, and even his attempts at sadness just seem amateur. Elwes even manages to dip back into his English accent a few times also, which, given some of Elwes' great turns over the years, is a huge disappointment
After getting over the initial shock of being in this predicament, Adam and Larry attempt to figure out the who, where and why of the situation, forming an uneasy partnership in order to try and get some answers. Neither of them can quite bring themselves to trust the other, and this sea-saw action works wonderfully in keeping the viewer on tenterhooks.
Soon enough, they find some tapes and other assorted clues dotted around the bathroom, and it's made clear by the ominous voice of the antagonist on these tapes that he only wishes for one man to leave the room alive. Larry's family have been kidnapped, and he has until 6pm to kill Adam, or they die. Adam, whilst having no captured family to speak of (although he does comment that he doesn't see them enough), must fend for himself should he wish to live.
It's not long after this that Larry realises that this is the MO of Jigsaw, a "killer" who has been terrorising these parts lately. From here, we flash back and are treated to a number of Jigsaw's previous exploits, where he punishes those who he deems to not appreciate their lives. It is said that Jigsaw never actually kills, but finds ways for his victims to kill themselves, but as far as I'm concerned, what he does is as close to murder as you can get without actually carrying out the act. Whilst the various traps we are shown are no doubt ingenious and brutal, the true essence of them is difficult to realise due to the irritating editing at this stage. The, I hate to say it, "MTV-style" editing of rotating the camera at a ridiculous speed like the cameraman is having some sort of a seizure becomes very annoying very quickly.
We also meet the only survivor of Jigsaw's traps so far - a drug addict named Amanda who was forced to dig a key out of a man's stomach (a man who was doped up on opiates at the time), a key which would unlock a brutal bear-trap attached to her face that would rip her jaw clean off. Needless to say, she feels as though Jigsaw helped her get clean and appreciate life, and whilst one can understand this, the fact that she seems to almost thank Jigsaw is truly odd, and I'm really not quite sure if it works yet (but yes, without saying anything, I have seen Saw 2 at the time of writing).
It's difficult to explain a great deal of this film without ruining the twists and turns, but to simplify things, I'll say that the audience is well and truly lead down the garden path in Saw, and then everything is flipped on its head. For the majority of the film, you may be thinking that you know the identity of Jigsaw, as I did - he's shown sneakily in a few shots and you're convinced that you know who it is. Alas, you'll be kicking yourself as the credits roll, but I can't get over the fact that this "mistaken Jigsaw" performs some actions in relation to Larry's family that, considering his actual story arc, just seem to be thrown in there to make the colossal twist all that more effective. For example, did he really need to check the heartbeat of Larry's family in that sadistic way? There are possible answers for this, but a lot of them are pretty weightless.
By this point, Detective Tapp (Glover) is known to the audience, and is besotted with the idea that Larry had something to do with the Jigsaw killings. In a flashback, we witness the events that lead up to his obsession, namely a pursuit that almost lead to the capture of Jigsaw, yet resulted in both a narrow escape and the disgusting murder of someone close to Tapp. By this point, Tapp is something of a rambling mess, alone in his apartment and distraught, running surveillance on Larry's house.
Back to the present, distrust continues to brew between Larry and Adam, as is a large source of the conflict within the film (as though a seemingly sadistic psychopath imprisoning them wasn't conflict enough), yet the duo ultimately endeavour to attempt to trick Jigsaw. In an instance that is poorly acted to almost the point of hilarity, Adam attempts to feign his death, but Jigsaw, being the highly-intelligent individual with more contingency plans than the US government, is able to outsmart them both. Whilst Jigsaw isn't a hugely developed character by any means, one of the few things we learn of him is that he certainly plans ahead, and if he has you in his claws, he won't let you go unless he wants to.
In further flashbacks, we learn some more revelations that only further the brewing contempt between Adam and Larry. Whilst this flashback (which takes place in Adam's apartment) is a fairly major plot point, I spent most of it wondering why Adam didn't just turn on his light rather than use his camera as a makeshift flashlight. I'm guessing it was something to do with his developing photos, but it didn't seem entirely clear to me, as a non-photographer. That said, this scene is still genuinely creepy, and people I've discussed the film with frequently hail it as the most tense scene in the film. I wouldn't make an effort to disagree with them.
At this stage, all of the threads begin to converge, and the tension between Adam and Larry reaches a fever pitch, with the two well and truly turned against one another. A few false twists are littered in for good measure also, and whilst they're entirely unnecessary, they provide appropriate tension for the moments we believe them to be real, no matter how brief these moments are.
As everyone races to this one converging point, we encounter what must be one of the cheapest car chases in the history of cinema. I can appreciate that this film was made on barely a million dollars, and so the cost-saving tactic of filming it in a smoky garage is more amusing than irritating. Still, the editing of this chase (which fortunately lasts mere seconds) returns to that irritating MTV shtick. In its defence, though, the industrial soundtrack is perfect for scenes such as this (and the subsequent sewer chase scenes), and very much helps to set a dank, moody tone.
By this point, the two leads appear to have lost all hope of coming out of this one clean, and Larry is forced to resort to a truly vile and dangerous action in order to attempt to save his family. Its depravity has become somewhat oversold, yet it's still pretty grisly. Needless to say, what follows is my chief complaint of the film - Elwes suddenly exhibits some truly abhorrent acting. He sounds like Ozzy Osbourne on some sort of narcotic, and it was news to me that blood loss gives you a British accent. For as great an actor as he is, and as well as he performs in the interrogation and family flashback scenes, his performance is truly deplorable here, but it does tend to incite more laughter than head-in-your-hands embarrassment, at least in my case.
As the film draws to a close, the curtain drops and the truth is finally revealed to us in a montage that neatly ties everything together. As stated previously, the astronomical twist at the end will likely shock you, be that in a good way or not. It is a totally ridiculous turn, and you may either be amazed by it or find it just too much, so this twist can essentially make or break the film. Fortunately, I found the twist, for all of its lunacy, to be rather effective, and I was left pretty open-mouthed as the credits rolled. That said, when you reflect on it, it raises a whole host of plot holes and logic jumps, but given just how smart and shocking this twist was, I think I can forgive them.
Saw is not a perfect film - I've taken half a star away for some of the ludicrous acting, and had this film not been as taut and engaging as it was for virtually the entire running time, an entire star would have been subtracted. I know that Elwes is better than this, and as for Whannell, well, it really wasn't necessary that he played one of the leads. Still, as far as horror films go, this is a refreshingly relentless gore-fest, and I would even go as far as to deem it both revolutionary and one of the greatest horror thrillers in a long time.
- 09-09-2007 05:02
The Simpsons Movie
Upon hearing that a film based on The Simpsons was in production, I really was curious as to whether, after 18 years and 400 episodes under their aging belts, the brilliant minds behind the Simpsons had the bottle to knock out a film that retained the hilarity of the earlier seasons (as the last five years of the show have been a notable decline), whilst also adhering to that unbeatable storytelling that made the show so popular in the first place.
The Simpsons Movie, running in at a slender 87 minutes (and barely 80 if you knock off the credits), wastes no time in piling on the laughs - the first gag is actually within the opening 20th Century Fox logo! It becomes clear very early on that, even whilst the film takes a little while to get comfortable, that the acerbic, biting wit of the earlier seasons is back, as Homer takes a crack at the viewer for paying money to see something they can see on TV for free. As true as he was, I loved this little gag.
A nice little roll call follows, re-introducing us (as I'm sure many a viewer has since given up on the Simpsons in recent years) to the characters we love, and reminding us of their little quirks. It was essentially nothing more than a preamble, but a pleasant one nonetheless. From these opening moments of the film, I wouldn't blame one for feeling slight disappointment, in that, examples such as the hammer gag (which featured very heavily in trailers), and a shocking glimpse at Bart's genitals, are evidence of the great presence of physical humour in the film. Whilst it's mildly amusing, I was always a bigger fan of the subtle, adult humour of the series, and fortunately there's a great abundance of that too (with some notable tongue-in-cheek knocks at Al Gore, the Patriot Act and FOX themselves), so everyone should leave the cinema somewhat happy. Furthermore, there's a few pop-culture references thrown in for kicks, most notably referring to Arnold Schwarzenegger's "terrible comedies" and the Grand Theft Auto computer game series.
Given the sheer amount of characters situated in Springfield, the writers had to make a real effort to try and squeeze lines in for everyone, and whilst some of the more likable characters in the series are conspicuous by their absence (such as Principal Skinner), there are some truly gold cameos here. Krusty the Clown utters one of his funniest and most risqué quips in the entire show's run, and Lenny and Karl have a likewise borderline-offensive exchange that left me laughing heartily.
This is the real beauty of not only this film, but the series in general - it has this ability to hazard attempts at offensive humour, but is never quite abhorrent enough to disgust. There are plenty of instances of this in the film - jokes about Mexicans and blacks, masturbation, homosexuals, a hint at bestiality, sexual fetishes (Homer hilariously utters "Why does everything that I whip leave me!?"), drug taking, and child alcoholism. However, the film still retains the theme of family that is universally recurrent throughout the series, and at its core, the film is a test of a family's faith in its patriarch, and a test for the patriarch to learn a few lessons outside of himself.
The majority of the above all kicks off before the story even really starts. In short, Homer rescues a pig from being butchered, and forms a fast bond with the animal, as aside from Cletus, it may be the only creature in Springfield that is his intellectual inferior. Upon hearing that a closing donut chain is giving away free donuts, and in a desperate bid to quickly get rid of a silo full of "pig crap", Homer dumps the silo into Springfield's river, causing the Environmental Protection Agency to lower an all-encapsulating dome over Springfield, threatening the lives of everyone in the town.
Needless to say, the film carries a large environmental and political message, characterised namely by hilariously placing Arnold Schwarzenegger as the President of the United States, and the EPA imprisoning the town for their crimes against nature. There are essentially no moral black and whites here - the EPA are right in that the town is generally very pollution-orientated, yet their ultimate decision to attempt to bomb Springfield is environmentalism gone mad (their leader even commenting - "ever try madness without power?"), and whilst the characters of Springfield are extremely flawed, they are mostly good people at heart.
The film also manages to reverse many of the situations seen in the series - as things begin to turn sour for the town, Marge utters to Lisa in relation to her anger at Homer for polluting the town - "you're a woman, you can hold onto it forever". Also, as the Simpsons clan are outcast from the rest of the town for Homer's actions, they rely on Bart's mischievous acts to evade their antagonists (notably including a hilarious wanted poster gag). Also, we see Ned Flanders lash out at his children in an amusingly passive-aggressive fashion, and Martin not only manages to best those that bully him, but also claims to enjoy it.
There are a few celebrity cameos in the film, although not as many as you might expect, but thankfully so. Green Day's cameo near the beginning of the film may seem ham-fisted, but it expresses just how apathetic the majority of the town (i.e. everyone but Lisa and her new beau) is in regard to environmental issues, and also allows for a pretty funny reference to Titanic. Also, there's a little surprise in relation to Green Day that I just can't bring myself to spoil, particularly if you're not a fan of the band. Tom Hanks also has a quick cameo that not-so-subtlety insults the US government, and even once the credits roll, Hanks pops up once more to facetiously (or perhaps not) make a request to the audience.
The final third of the film takes a more serious tone, although is still funny, I assure you. Driven to her wits end by Homer's stupidity, Marge decides to leave Alaska (where they spend a while in hiding) with the kids and help save Springfield. Marge beings to doubt her love for Homer, even, rather sadly, taping over their wedding video. Without saying too much, this act has some significance at the end of the film, as rather than double-back and tell us that somehow Marge didn't tape over the video, we assume that their love is so strong as to not warrant validation from a material object, a message that wasn't necessarily obvious but I liked it nonetheless.
The film has some amusing comments about religion which are fairly balanced, so as not to anger religious followers, nor alienate atheists or followers of other denominations. As Matt Groening himself commented, the film posits the existence of a very active God, as seen by the possession of Grandpa Simpson, and another divine intervention that ultimately allows Homer to make his last stand against the EPA.
In conclusion, The Simpsons Movie is a very charming film. It took a little time to get going, but there's something here for everyone - outrageous physical humour, subtle political humour (watch out for "Arnold Schwarzenegger"'s comment on the Kennedy Compound and watch if anyone at all laughs), scathing satire, and even what appears to be the death of a recurring character. Furthermore, as a family film, this is a portrait of a flawed but loving family who may at times find each other insufferable, but will come through when the instance calls for it. Given the worry many Simpsons fans had (such as myself) that this would reflect the recent declining years of the series, Groening and Co. have delivered a wildly hilarious film that doesn't quite hark back to the truly classic moments of the series, but manages to become an amalgam of what would be four great episodes, and I mean that in the best way possible.
- 09-09-2007 05:04
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
"Hasta la vista, baby.” These be the four words that solidified Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of the ostensibly definitive action icons of our time, in a film that I would argue is the greatest action film, as well as the greatest sequel, ever made – Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
The original Terminator film culminated with a pregnant Sarah Connor literally riding off into the sunset with her unborn child in tow, having narrowly escaped a seemingly unstoppable machine Hell-bent on killing (or “terminating”) her. In this high-budget sequel, her son, now a young boy, is being relentlessly hunted by two terminators – one sent to terminate the boy before he can grow up to lead the successful human resistance against the machines, and the other sent to protect the boy and ensure mankind’s salvation. As Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor utters in the wonderful prologue of the film - “it was just a question of which one of them would reach him first”. Granted, one must wonder why both sides only sent one machine back and not an entire fleet, but nonetheless, this film works on every conceivable level.
Terminator 2 begins by showing the arrival of both of the terminators, and as was an undoubtedly genius move on James Cameron’s part, he has Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-101 arrive first, and after he lays waste to a bar full of bikers and steals various items, one would find it difficult to believe that he was in fact the “good” terminator. Alas, the twist that Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appeared as the murderous, compassionless machine in the original film is now the benevolent robot, is a fact that may not be clear to the viewer until the subsequent arrival of the T-1000 (a shape-shifting liquid metal organism played to perfection by Robert Patrick), who promptly murders a police officer.
In the scenes that follow, we are introduced to the main players for the next 140 minutes – an institutionalised Sarah Connor (whose stories of her experiences against the terminator are dismissed as crackpot babble), her son John (who is living with foster parents and electronically steals money from banks), and Miles Dyson, an engineer that is essentially the accidental harbinger of potential Armageddon. As John visits the arcade with a friend, these threads explode in a tense, violent and thrilling exchange, resulting in the friendly terminator (that’s Arnie, remember) saving John’s life and serving as his protector from therein. What’s truly fantastic in respect to the two machines is that they are essentially the yin to each other’s yang – the T-101 is strong and well-armed, yet the T-1000 is a more advanced and versatile model, and so neither model is either exposed as possessing an obvious weakness, nor seen as possessing no discernible means of destruction.
The intensity of the action scenes in T2 is remarkable, not only due to Cameron’s own flawless auteurship, but the superb soundtrack from Brad Fiedel. A wonderful example is during the initial viaducts chase – Cameron constantly cuts between John and the pursuing T-1000, and also across to the T-101, whilst Fiedel’s superbly pulse-racing industrial beats allow a wonderful segue to the converging point, which makes for one of the more stellar action set pieces of the film.
Terminator 2 was highly revered at the time for its revolutionary special effects, visuals which are still impressive today (2007). Cameron managers to master an art that is still difficult to come by today – being sparing with CGI, in using it when necessary, although that may have been due to the expensive cost of CGI at the time more than anything else. Regardless, the truly awe-inspiring effects help to create an antagonist that is beyond anything ever seen on a cinema screen before, whilst remaining convincing and relying primarily on both Patrick’s physical presence as an actor and his superbly wooden and dead-pan performance.
A high-octane film this may be, but a brainless actioner it is not – once the initial car crashes and explosions are out of the way, the film takes a small respite to delve into developing the relationship between John and the T-101, and in many ways it can be seen as ultimately becoming a somewhat touching father-son relationship. John never met his biological father (the hero of the first film, Kyle Reese, who appears to Sarah in a dream in the extended edition of T2), and so this machine is something of a substitute, protecting John and even serving as a role model perhaps. John is also clearly impressed with the machine’s various functions – the ability to sustain vast amounts of damage without recourse, and also being able to mimic voices. Conversely, pre-programmed to obey John’s every command, the T-101 is essentially like John’s extremely strong, ever-obedient pet dog, and John wishes to teach “him” new abilities, resulting in him deciding to enable the T-101’s learning switch. This results in a number of amusing bonding scenes throughout the film, such as the T-101 attempting to smile, and whilst, even on the paper the script was printed on this may well have sounded out of place or goofy, it truthfully works as well as the decent amount of delightfully dark humour throughout the film.
Following on from this, John and the T-101 proceed to rescue Sarah from her institutionalisation, resulting in something resembling a nuclear family for John (despite Sarah’s apprehension, due to the T-101 bearing an uncanny resemblance to the machine after her in the first film). In this sense, it’s somewhat ironic that in order to truly get this sense of family he so desperately yearns for, John had to be thrust into an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation.
There are some wonderful moments of intense moral dilemma throughout the film, namely (only in the extended cut) Sarah’s attempt to destroy the terminator whilst they enable his learning switch, and Sarah’s later choice to attempt to kill Dyson, in the hope that this would prevent the future war and proliferation of these machines. The film also has a wonderfully sedate, reflective scene at a desert camp, where John and the T-101 expound on man’s nature to destroy themselves, and Sarah comes to the realisation that in this insane world, the T-101 would be the best father for John. As she says herself, “it would always be there, and it would die to protect him”. It’s these sorts of interludes between the gunplay and the car chases that make this film a truly rewarding cinematic experience – a deep, thoughtful actioner.
Further to this point, the film plays on the recurrent, but not quite antiquated view that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”, in that John, Sarah, Dyson and the T-101 ultimately are forced to break into Dyson’s workplace, a large industrial building, in attempt to destroy all of his work and prevent future apocalypse. The police, meanwhile, make every effort to prevent their “terrorism”, and as a curious caveat, the T-1000 spends all but a few minutes of the film dressed as a police officer, an interesting reversal of roles considering the truths that we, as viewers, know. Moreover, the T-101 is programmed to not cause death to any human, and this is an intriguing moral dichotomy to the police, who seem far less worried about who they kill.
From this point, the film becomes one brilliantly overblown, epically thrilling action piece after another, spanning from an explosion-filled shootout at Cyberdyne headquarters, to a high-speed highway chase, to a gripping finale at a steel mill. Once the dust has settled after the final battle, one can’t help but feel a degree of sadness – bonds have been made between characters and then through cruel sets of circumstances (but ones which ultimately ensure the survival of the human race), these necessary bonds are broken. I must say that this is perhaps the only action film that has made me feel genuine sadness each time I watch it, and I have no shame about that – it is merely a testament to the quality of the writing here. The film decides to close on an ambiguous but optimistic note, and the final words uttered are both chilling and highly relevant to the times we live in, once again reinforcing both the cultural relevance of the anti-war message here, and the fact that this is in many ways a cautionary tale against our technological age.
In conclusion, Terminator 2 is my favourite film of all time, combining slick visuals, wonderful effects, characters you care about, scintillating action scenes, and an interesting, culturally significant plot. I hope for the day that someone is able to create a film that, in my eyes, is actually better than this, but that is a day that I fear may never come.
- 09-09-2007 05:04
John Carpenter's "They Live", by sheer premise alone, could easily have gone either way - a horrendous, overstuffed failure, or a witty, hugely entertaining commentary on modern society. Fortunately, with Carpenter's steady directorial hand, this film assumes the latter identity - it makes remarks about consumerism and social inequality which are relevant even near-twenty years on, taking the viewer on an extremely fun ride as it does so.
Needless to say, the film wastes not a second in establishing its social context - our protagonist, simply credited as "Nada" (Roddy Piper) is a down-on-his luck drifter, unable to find work, seemingly kept down by "the man". As he walks past someone, their glazed-over eyes staring into a window full of televisions, one must consider that the considerations this film makes are about as subtle as a brick being hurled through that very window, but nevertheless, Carpenter raises important issues effectively, and never forces it down our throats.
Eventually scoring a job on a work-site, Nada becomes fast friends with Frank (Keith David), a hard-done-by individual himself, yet Nada initially sees him as simply being too impatient with society and expecting too much from life. Conversely, Nada is of the belief that the everyman can succeed in American society, but alas, his stance is about to change drastically.
In his travels, Nada also comes across a series of strange television transmissions, spouting what is dismissed by most as the verbiage of madmen, urging the everyman to rise up and revolt against their controlling oppressors, who are supposedly preventing racial diversity, allowing an underclass to grow, and exerting their hegemonic powers (primarily money) to these ends. Furthermore, Nada also encounters a shady group of individuals posing as a choir group, whilst something far more sinister is quite abundantly afoot.
Things very quickly turn to chaos as a fleet of police officers arrive, riot shields and all, and at this stage, it's all quite the exciting mystery. The real treat of the film comes when Nada discovers a box of sunglasses, and upon trying on a pair, discovers that hidden messages are placed all about our world, instructing us to "obey", "watch TV" and have "no independent thought", among other things. It's a fantastic concept, and everything about its execution is extremely pleasing to the eye - the monochrome representation of the world through these glasses, and also the alteration of everyday objects such as magazines to appear as blank slates with instructions written on them.
Further still, those already assimilated by this force assume a ghoulish facial appearance when the glasses are worn, as evidenced by Nada's encounter with an aloof businessman. As with The Thing, Carpenter and his team are to once again be praised for their stellar effects work - the skeletal guise of those already "infected" is both terrifying and authentic looking, having stood the test of time fantastically.
Piper's reaction to these ghouls is gold - his natural defenses invite him to make jokes at the hideousness of them, naturally offending those around him observing, who have not seen the world through Nada's magical glasses. It isn't long before Nada's actions earn him the attention of a great number of these things, and he is ultimately forced to resort to violence in order to survive, quite an interesting commentary in itself when considered within the context of freedom fighting and revolutions.
Nada's transformation into a certified baddass is a little too fast, but it's so much fun and so enjoyable to watch that we don't care. Nada, shotgun in hand, now goes about dispatching as many of these beasts as possible, and if that wasn't task enough, he becomes a wanted man as a result, with both the monsters and the police (who believe him to be a communist freedom fighter) on his tail.
Nada naturally has a difficult time convincing people of what's going on, resulting in him both being knocked out of a window and down a hill by a woman, and engaging in a refreshingly gritty five-minute slug-fest with Keith David's character whilst trying to convince him to try the sunglasses on. Much of the difficulty also seems to stem from the fact that most people are likely to simply humour a seeming madman wielding a gun rather than actually try the glasses on and see if he's telling the truth.
The film's final set piece is a wildly overblown (in the best sense possible) war between those awakened to the truth, and those not, with bullets and explosions hurtling in every direction. It has a degree of inherent cheese to it, but again, this is in the best way possible - two warring sides alternatively hiding behind bins for cover and then firing at their enemy has never, and probably never will be, so much fun. As Piper and David sweep through a building, destroying waves of soldiers in hails of bullets, what could have been a conventional and tiresome shooting exercise is kept vibrant due to Carpenter's original use of imagery and superb soundtrack. By the time They Live reaches its end, there are genuinely surprising turns and unexpected departures, reaching a climax which, through his actions, solidifies Piper's Nada as an action hero and role model for the everyman tucked away in most of us.
They Live never endeavours to take itself too seriously - sure, it has a message to it, that we must remember to take a breather from buying things we don't need and working 40-hour weeks every so often, but even in the final moments of the film, we're left belly laughing at what is an all-around extremely entertaining film. Piper, surprisingly enough, is a believable protagonist, bringing both the presence and macho charisma that his other vocation requires, and Keith David is a likewise entertaining disgruntled sidekick. John Carpenter is something of an unrecognised auteur, frequently writing, directing and scoring his films, each with a unique flair that deserves praise, and as far as his modernised Invasion-of-the-Body-Snatchers-with-bells-on goes, I say "Kudos!".
- 09-09-2007 12:40
Wow, that was quite an update.
Thanks for the reviews. They have been added to the list.
- 09-09-2007 14:18
Awesome, cheers. I was worried it was too much too fast! I'm going to see Atonement in 40 minutes so I'll probably have a review of that later too.
- 11-09-2007 02:19
Crazy Love's premise is original enough to violently grab the interest of near enough anyone - a 21-year old Linda Riss, upon ending her relationship with hotshot lawyer Burt Pugach, has a caustic solution thrown in her face, blinding her, for which Burt is responsible, and sixteen years later, the two marry - this is their story.
The infamous "lye-throwing" incident above occurred in 1959, and almost 50 years later, director Dan Klores catches up with Linda and Burt, as well as their families and friends to make sense of this seemingly insane situation. Up until the closing moments of the documentary, Burt and Linda offer their views in separate rooms, and so we are left unaware as to whether they are still together right up until the final seconds, an interesting enigma, I add.
Crazy Love chronicles the unlikely relationship (even prior to the disfigurement) between attractive young Linda and a successful but unattractive lawyer, in Burt. In what is arguably the weak link in this film, their childhoods are also discussed in some depth, yet for all of their abuse and coddling as children, it is never linked to their present-day behaviours. We can draw our own conclusions, but to hear an informed and schooled psychological opinion would not have been remiss.
As we meet present-day Burt, he is something of a sleazy character, and I dare anyone to not feel remorse for Linda for how she was ultimately played by Burt. Linda makes it clear that she had a great deal of sexual morality whilst dating Burt initially, and Burt, the ever-lecherous older man, was intensely bothered by her refusal to "put out". Almost laughably, Linda's refusal, combined with his own professional misgivings, led him to heavy drinking, he purports.
To label Burt as "peculiar" is to do all of the peculiar folk out there a great disservice - Burt is certifiably crazy-in-love, yet his downward spiral into this state is almost presented in tongue-in-cheek fashion. As his various cohorts chime in with their comments, a picture, accompanied by some appropriately zany music, is shown to us - Burt with a fully-grown beard, glasses, and a maniacal look on his face - I laughed. A lot.
Burt's behaviour by this stage is downright disgraceful - he abuses Linda, following her, and hiring people to intimidate her in the hope that it would lead her straight back into his arms. I think one must be careful to label Burt insane (at least in the pathological sense), as I think that would be letting him off easily - rather, I think his actions were a series of selfish acts performed in order to keep Linda within his grasp. It's disgusting to even think about what this man has done, but it's nonetheless extremely gripping.
The film eventually gets to what everyone wants to know about - Burt hiring three men to hurl lye in Linda's face, which eventually causes her to become entirely blind. At this point, I would assume that every single person watching this must be wondering quite how one can redeem themselves after authorising such a heinous act - I sure as anything was. As Burt chose to do in this documentary, in discussing his childhood at some length, when brought to trial, he attempted to paint himself as something of a victim, proclaiming that he made her "almost blind", rather than entirely blind, as though that made such a difference. I found Burt to be, from this scene alone, a rather pathetic and thoroughly dislikeable individual. Furthermore, when Burt claims that being a defendant in this case was a profit, as he was able to see Linda as a result, he is one very small step away from becoming a parody of individuals slightly less crazy than himself.
Linda, conversely, is a rather amiable, inspiring individual - she attempts to simply continue living her life, which isn't easy, considering there aren't many people who would find her disfigurement appealing, romantically speaking. Even almost two decades following the incident, she still suffers rather strange turns of fortune - upon asking Burt to send her money whilst in prison, she inadvertently sets forth a chain of events that eventually leads to Burt's parole.
Whilst it is admirable that Burt is still in love (or this twisted form of it, at least) with Linda after not only almost two decades, but also her blindness and disfigurement, one cannot help but think that Linda decided to return to Burt to avoid loneliness. Surely Linda can never forget what Burt did, as this act in itself effectively clipped Linda's wings - in a time where looks were one of the few things that women laid claim to outright, Linda's were abruptly taken away, thrusting her back into Burt's arms. As such, it is very easy to agree with Linda's disgruntled Aunt, and furthermore, one of Linda's friends, who attests that financial security was the most important commodity to Linda. It's a worrying commentary on this thing we call "love", and whilst any mature adult will recognise that love is never the fairytale that Hollywood cracks it up to be, to reduce it to such insipid precepts leaves a very sour taste.
Even as we approach present day, Burt still appears very unrepentant, with more tales of purported mistresses slipping through the cracks - why this truly detestable man never learns is beyond my level of comprehension. Resultantly, his wife almost appears institutionalised, downplaying much of his indiscretion, and deeming him a poor man for having to put up with her - even as a fleeting comment, it's highly disconcerting.
Crazy Love is a peculiar, highly captivating documentary that, whilst conspicuously devoid of any merited psychological authority, sustains itself on the curious individuals within, although not without leaving a sour taste. Burt, by the end of Crazy Love, resembles the cat that got the cream, and whilst he does finally appear repentant in the final moments of the film, it does little to change my intense dislike for this man. In regard to Linda, despite what Burt has put her through, she still cracks jokes about this half-century ordeal, and one must consider whether Linda is in fact crazier than Burt - perhaps they're both so crazy that they truly do belong together.
- 11-09-2007 02:20
Hell Comes to Frogtown
If this film's title wasn't enough of an indication for you - yes, Hell Comes to Frogtown is a cheese piece, a staple of the "so-bad-it's-good" genre of action adventure films, and more to the point, it's a 1980s film, and in all aspects, it is both a considerably under-seen, and dare I say, underrated little gem of a film.
By classical film standards, this film may be considered nothing but a resounding smudge on the sleeve of the cinema of yesteryear, yet the opening moments of the film alone should cause you to realise that this was made with the tongue very firmly planted in the cheek - I have an inkling that everyone involved with Hell Comes to Frogtown knew that it would be both an extremely fun film to make, and moreover, be ravaged by critics upon release.
The film's plot, which cannot be described as anything less than "offbeat", involves the preposterously-named, hilariously virile Sam Hell (Roddy Piper) standing among the few men left with their reproductive organs in tact following World War 3. Soon enough, Sam is captured by a band of scientists and informed that he must aid them in kidnapping a group of virgins, and subsequently inseminating them. Yes, the plot sounds as though it was torn directly from a pornographic film, but it works, as long as you're not expecting high art, and if you are - what on Earth did you expect with a title like "Hell Comes to Frogtown"?
Furthermore, the female scientists escorting Sam on this mission are naturally quite fetching once free of their glasses and army get-ups, and their unequivocally ridiculous mission objectives include keeping Sam "excited" throughout his mission, in order to promote potency, a feat apparently best achieved by stripping off, at times of class, into lingerie, and at all other times, to nothing. Additionally, near enough any female that Sam comes into contact with (even the frog-like females of Frogtown) pounces on him, turning the ever-trite stereotype of "the lecherous male" on its head, one female even asking Sam, "I guess you have to be in love first?" in response to not wanting to be used "like a machine". It's a refreshing turn, and funny to boot, thanks largely to Piper's ever-present charm as the dumbstruck last hope of mankind.
Of course, what would any bite of 80s cheese be without the forced, shamelessly telegraphed sexual tension, which quite naturally pans out as you would expect. Of course, this tension is somewhat stunted by the fact that, to every male's cross-legged cringe, the love interest herself, the lead scientist (Sandahl Bergman), is wearing earrings which control an electronic codpiece that Sam wears, and even worse, if the earrings get too far away from her, the codpiece will explode, a plot thread which is of course explored exhaustively.
Almost half of the film passes before we finally meet the stars of the show - the inhabitants of Frogtown, by-products of man's nuclear war, melding the DNA of humans and frogs together to create a bestial entity that assumes the form of a human, whilst the skin and facial features resemble that of a frog. Considering the all-encompassing B-movie aura surrounding this film, the effects are surprisingly impressive looking, and any flaws, such as the often out-of-synch mouth movements, only add to the fun, as if guffaw-inducing frog-men themselves weren't levity enough. Moments from Sam and his cohorts entering Frogtown, they hear of the town's anger that they were all herded into Frogtown by the government, and moreso, disallowed from handling weaponry (not that this stops them). This in itself is interesting food-for-thought in relation to the place of deformed individuals in today's society, and whilst it's never dwelled on in any great detail, it doesn't have to be either.
Once our heroes settle rather comfortably into Frogtown, the film becomes something of a caper, and quite predictably, Sam and company become embroiled in a scrimmage with the inhabitants of the town, attempting to both rescue the helpless virgins, and escape Frogtown themselves. However, even as the gunfights ensue, Hell Comes to Frogtown never surrenders its whimsical tone, never endeavouring to take itself too seriously. This is to the film's credit - it aids us in not focusing on its misgivings, but simply sitting back and absorbing this truly harebrained work of cinema.
The film's solution relies on an outrageous measure of coincidence, making no attempt whatsoever to emancipate or otherwise inspire, but it's so flagrant and deliberate in its delivery that one has no other choice than to laugh. Nevertheless, once the smoke clears, everything is tied up a little too nicely, and we are left with little time to ponder anything (as if there was anything to ponder) before the credits roll - we are simply invited to observe our protagonists riding away into the sunset.
It is quite sincerely a cinematic truth that few films can hold claim to being able to "out-cheese" Hell Comes to Frogtown, but this film, above all else, is a huge ball of fun. If made today, moreover, without the imposing "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, it likely wouldn't be half as fun, but on the sheer "strength" of its premise alone, would enter into the cult film lexicon. Hell Comes to Frogtown is one of the many films of decades past that no doubt influenced such post-modern cheese-fests as Crank, Snakes on a Plane, and more recently, Shoot 'Em Up, and so Hell Comes to Frogtown is at least something more than forgettable guys-in-costumes fare with, of all people, a professional wrestler as the protagonist. Just ensure to steer well clear from the purportedly dire spate of sequels.
- 11-09-2007 13:37
- 12-09-2007 23:36
Cheers! Btw, I noticed that two of my reviews (Rise and Simpsons) didn't have my name attached on the main page.
From the opening moments of Adam Green's self-proclaimed "old school" horror venture "Hatchet", it would appear that the film wastes little time in getting the ball rolling, as well as the body count soaring, and with the film running in at barely eighty minutes, one is inclined to presume rightly so. Unfortunately, following the opening slaughter of a man and his son, the gore-lubricated gears of Hatchet slow down to an almighty, frustrating halt for a good while, in place of developing a tiresome, unnecessary story. Had I actually been pining for character development and a rich, deep plot, I would ostensibly have looked elsewhere.
However, it is clear from this opening scene (featuring the first of many crowd-pleasing horror-legend cameos throughout), as increasingly-voluminous buckets of blood splatter in every direction, that Hatchet is a B-movie throwback in every respect, and I use the term "throwback" with as much endearment as one can lend to an outing such as this. The characters are nothing but stock - the moronic porn stars, the socially inept nerd, the sweet middle-aged couple, and, just for kicks, even a "token black guy". That said, there is an Asian redneck-wannabe pottering around with our heroes for a decent portion of the film.
Any hint of slight promise that the film had going for it, at least for a while, is quickly squandered following the opening credits - we meet a rabble of youngsters participating in the Mardi Gras celebrations and no, before you ask, our nasty villain doesn't go around hacking up drunk, half-naked college girls for his own entertainment. Rather, and in somewhat less entertaining fashion than that premise, our boneheaded protagonists (Richmond and Moore) decide to embark upon a ghost tour, encountering a host of mysterious and shady characters (many of whom fall into the aforementioned "stock" category), and as many other clichés as can be stuffed into the film within the running time.
Criticisms aside, Hatchet isn't without its amusing moments (most of which are spouted with gusto from Richmond), it just happens that many of them are cemented within the establishing scenes which, considering the film barely runs 75 minutes without credits, are frustratingly superfluous. In fact, it is well over half-way through Hatchet before the bodies begin to mount up, although once they start, they pretty much don't stop until the final frame, literally.
Following a ridiculous escape sequence from a crocodile, and left stranded without a boat, the gravity of the hapless victim's situation is revealed, curiously explaining everything about the antagonist before his spree begins, and moreover, prior to him showing his face on-screen. It's a nice change of direction for horror films, but the accompanying story just isn't engaging enough to nail this point home - it essentially comprises of nothing more than an extremely disfigured man seeking revenge on society for how he was treated as a child.
After what seems to be an eternity, the mayhem finally begins, and it is so far beyond foul that it circles around and almost becomes clean again. Gore hounds will revel as victim after helpless victim is killed, in a multitude of violent, although largely unoriginal ways, be it simply being hacked up, impaled, de-limbed, or even, most impressively of all, having their head torn in half from the jaw upwards. The effects are by and large quite primitive, but it's just as well in adhering to the advertised tagline of "old school American horror". There appears to be little-to-no CGI in sight, and be it due to budgetary constraints, or Green truly wishing to capture the 80s feel, it works.
Whilst Hatchet descends into a gore-fest pastiche once the bodies start to hit the floor, it isn't without moments of grace - the acting, for instance, is surprisingly palatable, particularly from Tamara Feldman, convincingly portraying the determined, feisty female lead, whilst her male counterpart (Moore) is the appropriately wimpy nerd with no social (more the point, romantic) skills. Meanwhile, the true treat of the film is Deon Richmond as the wise-cracking, down-on-his-luck party animal, and dare I say "token black guy" - some of his lines are highly amusing, and you can tell that Richmond had great fun with his role (and funnily enough, he has been given such tokenism in both Scream 3 and, more outrageously, the criminally underrated Not Another Teen Movie). Even the two actresses portraying porn actresses in this film display a modicum of credibility in their delightfully moronic characters, although I will never be able to look at Mercedes McNab the same way I did when all I knew her for was The Addams Family Values. Green, who also wrote Hatchet, exhibits some occasional wit in his writing, and the majority of the sketchy dialogue is quite obviously intentional, namely espoused by the aforementioned pornographic actresses.
The film's ending is in a sense quite refreshing, refusing to descend into a cliché love story, but it is nonetheless irritating in its brevity, Green cutting us off right in the midst of the action. Nevertheless, Hatchet is in a sense post-modern horror fare - it's absolutely overflowing with clichés left and right, but Green knows this, and has great fun in exploiting this fact. Moreover, whilst it is certainly true that obscuring the antagonist in shadow and keeping him off-screen is certainly easier than dealing with him as an individual, I get the feeling that Green realises his monster is a fairly arbitrary beast, and so keeping him out of the way when he's not called upon to kill and maim is largely to the film's betterment. Hatchet doesn't teach the old dog any new tricks, but it doesn't endeavour to, and in respect to producing a fun, mindless bloodbath that will, above all else, satisfy its core audience, the film is a success.
- 13-09-2007 12:58
Oopsie. Tis fixed now.
- 17-09-2007 04:56
Resurrecting the Champ
It has been said that Samuel L. Jackson will quite literally undertake any role that is placed before him, ranging from his roots as gangsters and drug addicts, to liberating a plane full of snakes, to forming a butt-kicking duo with, of all people, Eugene Levy (in a film that I must advise you to avoid - The Man). Some may deem Jackson to take the quick and bountiful pay-day, but I like to think of him as, above all else, versatile, something that Jackson further proves in his latest outing - Resurrecting the Champ, portraying a down-on-his-luck, slightly eccentric, homeless former-boxer, eaking his way through life as best possible.
Fortunately, screenwriters Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett make the very wise decision to almost immediately introduce us to Jackson's character (who goes by the name of "Champ"), and furthermore, establish him as a sympathetic individual, whose life becomes very hastily entwined with sports writer hotshot Erik Kernan's (Hartnett). As Erik saves Champ from a thuggish beating, and gives him a little dough to get by, Champ returns in kind by claiming to be a former-boxer, which naturally causes much excitation in Kernan, who hopes to save his flagging career with Champ's story. In mere moments, a relationship is established that, not only due to the differing races of the protagonists, but the sheer nature of the relationship, reminded me of the fantastic Reign Over Me from earlier this year.
This seed is sewn rather smartly before the story segues into what resembles both a "news drama" (if such a term exists), and a family piece. Hartnett's character is unquestionably driven, yet he struggles personally and professionally, his broken home and workplace not only conflicting, but well and truly coming to fisticuffs with one another. Whilst, given such conflicts, Resurrecting the Champ could very well have devolved into a more syrupy version of Kramer vs Kramer, it manages to narrowly avoid this - it doesn't shy away from showing Erik playing with his son, nor any other number of quaint family-orientated scenes, but what it does do, more often than not, is avoid clichés, and provide a mature account of what it is to be a good father, and moreover, what it means to do the right thing.
Much praise has been, and will continue to be attributed to Samuel L. Jackson's performance in this film (with a campaign even pursuing the Oscar trail), a turn which, I will attest, took some getting used to, but is ultimately very schooled and very affecting. Jackson is similar in appearance to his character in The Caveman's Valentine, yet is considerably more aged (purporting to be 70 years old), sporting a gravely voice, with an upward inflection for the most part. Whilst it may seem laughable for a few moments, it ultimately works, although the Oscar-talk I've been hearing may be getting a tad ahead of the game.
It's no feat to assume that something will inevitably drive a wedge between these fast friends, and whilst this could have travelled several predictable routes, the film keeps us guessing, in that, for the majority of the film, we're never truly sure whether Erik actually cares about Champ's plight, or is simply enacting self-preservation. Furthermore, there is something of a paradigm shift at times, in that Champ, whilst initially perceived to be a destitute, marble-less man, does exhibit some degree of boxing intellect when given the opportunity, seeming to even overshadow Erik. Consequently, Champ's decision to tell his story not only revitalises Erik's career prospects, but Champ himself appears to feel more alive as a result.
The rapport between Erik and Champ certainly isn't limited to boxing - they fleetingly discuss their different upbringings, and it makes something of an important, if entirely unsubtle commentary on the social, and perhaps racial, divide of the times in which these individuals were raised, which is at least partially relevant today also. Erik and Champ also confide in one another somewhat, trading war stories of their various relationships. For Champ, as heartbreaking as it is, it becomes apparent that things cut considerably deeper than his failed career, yet, in what is quite a subtly touching scene, Erik introduces Champ to his son. It's arguably quite irresponsible, but for the most part, Champ appears to be entirely harmless, and the interactions that Erik's son has with Champ are very heart-warming - as they leave the encounter, Erik asks his son why he appears so sad, to which he asks "Why does Champ have to live on the street? Why can't he live with us?".
Perhaps too quickly, Erik's career begins to flourish following his article on Champ, and with little-to-no conflict in sight, the film's pace comes very close to plodding, but manages to pull out of the recesses with a definitive, deal-breaking twist in relation to Erik's article, a revelation which, if true, would ruin him professionally. Erik is set at a crossroads - he can potentially lie and be successful, or tell what he believes to be the truth and reach professional failure. Naturally, the choice isn't an easy one.
The film's payoff from this sting in the tail is a tad melodramatic at times, but for the most part, it works, and even once we know the truth, the walls are far from done in closing in upon Erik, who, for the first time, finally really identifies with what Champ endures every day, and is led to examine his personal and professional life, and decide what he truly desires for himself and his family. Whilst the film is, by its end, a period of awakening for Erik, it is also one of great sadness, and I had to ponder whether one event in the final moments of the film was particularly necessary.
Resurrecting the Champ is a well-crafted film with a stellar performance from Samuel L. Jackson, and decent attempts from his co-stars. It's simply unfortunate that Jackson's screen time seems to diminish as the picture progresses, the plot instead focusing on the decidedly less-interesting family drama element. The film is not without its emotionally-wrenching scenes, which fringe upon causing the film to become too saccharine, but never quite teeter over the edge, thanks to the film's maturity and approach to the majority of the material. Resurrecting the Champ will undoubtedly continue to be ignored in favour of other pictures, but it is one of the more stable, unpretentious films of the year, which I can do no less than recommend.
- 18-09-2007 01:12
Shoot 'Em Up
What is most evident about Michael Davis' 86-minute shot-of-adrenaline, aptly titled "Shoot 'Em Up", is that it does exactly as it advertises - the film, with as much sex, violence and foul language as Davis was able to cram into the running time, lands mere steps away from some of the overly outlandish fare from Looney Tunes cartoons. Moreover, as the bodies begin to form a rather sizable pile, the film can't be too far a cry from a cinematic version of a shoot-'em-up game you might find on your PlayStation or X-Box.
I can nigh-on guarantee two things that will occur when you finish watching this film - you will want to break something, and you will want to eat a carrot, two things our protagonist does as much as possible in Shoot 'Em Up. Needless to say, the film's plot is expectedly rather ridiculous - Mr. Smith (Owen), a gun-totting, have-a-go-hero, saves a baby from certain slaughter by Hertz (Giamatti) and his seemingly innumerable fleet of armed henchmen, and spends the remaining 75 minutes of the film protecting that baby, with the help of a lactating prostitute, Donna (Bellucci).
From the first moment of the film, until the final, bloody frame, Shoot 'Em Up is tongue-in-cheek all the way - it unabashedly, relentlessly takes a concept that by all rights shouldn't be anything above B-movie standards, and makes fun of it, throwing a host of zany and idiosyncratic characters our way, along with a great deal of hyperactive gunplay that, by comparison, causes the action in The Matrix trilogy to seem realistic. If you're not gripped yet, well, the film also features Clive Owen's character murdering two henchmen with carrots. Yes, carrots.
Davis, if anything, has made a film with confidence - no more than two minutes into the film does the first explosive gunfight begin, with Mr. Smith skidding around in oil, and even helping to delivery a baby mid-battle. Davis could well have made us wait for our action, but he knows what his audience wants, and gives it to them in copious amounts, completely devoid of any shame whatsoever, and it's admirable, as had the action been any less over-the-top, one could almost dismiss this as a dumb action film, but he knows, and revels in the fact that it's ridiculous, and so we can laugh with Davis, rather than at him.
It is to this effect also that, rather than sigh, one is inspired to almost laugh as Smith takes out some rather by-the-side grudges against old men with pony-tails, yuppies who park in disabled parking spaces, and abusive mothers - when he takes a breather from shooting, of course. Had a film any more serious attempted something that so flagrantly (and unnecessarily) espouses the screenwriter's own views, I probably would have turned my nose up in disgust, but Davis gets away with it.
As refreshing as it is to see Owen retain his British accent in a Hollywood picture, and for all of his witty one-liners, the true joy of Shoot 'Em Up is Paul Giamatti's performance as the insanely eccentric, wildly demented villain. He both looks, and acts ridiculous, throwing tempter tantrums at his henchmen as they continually fail to kill Smith, and moreover, laying claim to more quirks than any other villain you'll see in 2007. It's a curious turn for Giamatti, but he makes the role his own, and provides some of the bigger laughs of the film - his line "Do we really suck? Or is he really that good?" is crowd-pleasing of the highest order.
My real indifference in relation to the cast lies with Monica Bellucci, who appears to be eye candy and not much else. I did attempt to rationalise that she simply wasn't given compelling dialogue, and whilst that's largely true, it failed to quiet my dislike for her performance. I loved her in Irreversible and found her at least passable in The Matrix sequels, but there's little spark here - she has a mild chemistry with Owen, but exists largely to titillate and give him someone to bounce dialogue off.
One cannot forget who is perhaps the real star of the show - the baby. His scenes range from the downright preposterous, where Mr. Smith engages in gunfights and dives through windows with him in tow, to the amusingly inventive, such as Donna buying him a bullet-proof vest, proudly proclaiming that it's "a better investment than a crib". Also, I dare you not to crack even a slight smile as Clive Owen uses his sock as a beanie hat for Oliver - it's very funny, very cute, and dare I say, even a little sweet, and somehow, it makes the film seem as though it isn't gimmick-driven for a moment (not that this is such a bad thing in this case).
If Shoot 'Em Up steps foul at any instance, it has to be in the latter portion of the film, where (following the most ridiculous sex scene in the history of cinema) some crippled form of an explanation is given as to why Hertz is attempting to kill this baby. I didn't see any need to explain this, especially when the time spent doing this could have been spent doing something more worthwhile, like Smith killing more people with carrots, or Hertz providing us with more evidence that he is, in fact, certifiably insane. Fortunately, the rotten excuse for a plot isn't dwelled on in any great detail, and it's not too long before Smith finds himself darting around with all guns blazing once again.
Shoot 'Em Up has been given the moniker of "this year's Crank", and with good reason too, and no more apparent than in the film's air-borne finale, which is both as CGI-slapped and implausible as the final sequence of Crank. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Crank, and I certainly enjoyed Shoot 'Em Up. The film is loud, violent, explicit, but most of all, fun. It asks no questions of its audience, and expects little in return other than for you to sit back and enjoy the slew of carnage that ensues. It's not high art, and doesn't pretend to be - it's a post-modern look at what might well have been considered a "serious" action film a few decades ago, to exaggerated effect, obviously. I expect that few will deem Shoot 'Em Up to be a disappointment, nor anything remotely close to Oscar-calibre either, but many will love its outlandishness and its irreverence, and moreover, it's a film best scene with as big an audience as you can muster.
- 09-10-2007 04:07
Kudos, asdata! Great reviews all of them Though I whole-heartedly disagree with your assessment of Resident Evil; the only good part of that film was the laser-beam corridor scene...the rest was just dross. The sequel, on the other hand, was significantly better (though still not that great). I await the third with baited breath
Anyways; a review from me!
- 09-10-2007 04:08
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