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    Name of Film: Stardust (2007, Matthew Vaughn)

    Expectations are an interesting thing. One can frequently raise them, lower them, fail to have them surpassed, and have them smashed into little pieces. And I honestly wasn't expecting to have my expectations absolutely obliterated by Stardust; but seems that I had two sets of the damned things blown apart. Silly me, I suppose.

    The film tells the story of a young man named Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox), who is a shop-boy in the town of Wall - the namesake of which just so happens to be the border of a magical realm of Stormhold. Upon seeing a shooting star cascade into the land beyond the wall, Tristan makes a promise to local beauty Victoria (Sienna Miller) to retrieve the star in exchange for her hand in marriage. What Tristan doesn't know is that in Stormhold, stars are celestial beings who sit in the sky and watch the over the world; and the star he was looking out for would turn out to be the beautiful Yvaine (Claire Danes). But he's not the only one seeking the star - a trio of witches need her heart to acquire her youth; and thus the adventure begins.

    The story, however, isn't the strongest aspect of the movie. In fact - apart from the vaguely decent concept and execution - the story is perhaps its weakest point, being wholly predictable from start to finish. It'd've been nice to have some kind of twist or turn (in fact, I could think of a way of doing it by simply deleting a single line of dialogue). Another problem is that the movie feels about 15 minutes too long, but it's incredibly difficult to point a finger at any given moment and say 'that could go'. No, it's more down to pacing than actual structure; there are a few moments that just need a trim in the editing department to make them bounce along faster. But honestly, these are minor problems at best, and they really didn't matter by the end of the story. I was having too much fun.

    And that fun derives from two things. Firstly, the characters; there's a lot of them, and each is incredibly well fleshed out - from the actor playing them to their scripting, they're each memorable and funny in equal measures. Of particular note is Robert DeNiro's Captain Shakespeare - a man who puts on a tough veneer to hide a rather amusing secret; DeNiro playing it with tongue firmly planted in his cheek. Excellent, too, are the two protagonists; with Cox and Danes displaying some excellent chemistry, and the latter's RP British accent being more or less flawless. Then there's the gamut of British talent that turn up in quick-fire cameo roles - the most memorable of these being Ricky Gervais' Ferdy the Fence, who had me close to tears of laughter.

    The second is the execution of the set-pieces; from a mass brawl on board Shakespeare's airship, to the swords'n'sorcery with a twist final showdown, it all tingles with a real sense of silliness and excitement. There are a couple of bum notes with regards to the special effects - including one that is almost heinous in its execution during the otherwise superb final battle - but on average they qualify as 'solid', and again, you should be having too much fun to notice them.

    Basically, this is an old-school fairytale, full of fun, wonder and a healthy dollop of silliness; whilst being almost totally devoid of anything too serious or scary. A hugely enjoyable film if you're not looking for anything too heavy; and unless The Golden Compass proves otherwise, this could be the fantasy film of the year. Absolutely brilliant.

    Rating Out of 10: 8
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    Name of Film: American Ganster (Ridley Scott, 2007)

    Oscar season is here and the first real major film that wants to
    challenge for this years Best Film award is here.

    Oh boy has the marketing machine worked its magic here. This film wants
    to be taken seriously, as seriously as The Godfather or Goodfellas,
    from everything from the slick trailers to the simple yet stylish movie
    posters and even intro credits.

    The main selling point of this film are the lead actors Denzel
    Washington and Rusell Crowe.

    I'll drop my first humdinger by saying I don;t think these actors are
    anything special nor are they even in the top few actors around at the
    current time.

    Rusell Crowe has only ever impressed me in one film. The best film he
    has been in was LA Confidential, but that wasn't really down to him. In
    that film he played something of an oaf with little emotion. In Romper
    Stomer he played something of a thug. And in his award winning
    performance in Gladiator he played something, yes you guessed it, an
    oaf and a thug. I should add in here that Gladiator is in my opinion an
    utterly awful and overrated film with little substance. If American
    Gangster was to go on and win the Oscar for Best Film like Gladiator
    did then it would only cost the Academy Awards the little bit of
    credibility they have left IMO.

    It is not all bad though because Crowe did put in a performance to be
    remembered in the film 'The Insider' which I thought was actually VERY
    good and easily the best performance I have seen form him (Beautiful
    Mind included).

    Next we have Denzel Washington. An actor who IMO was nothing special.
    He then won an Oscar for Tarining Day and was propelled to mega-actor
    status. Since then he hasn't really put in a truly brilliant
    performance. The thing I don't like about Washington is arrogance, he
    exudes it, I am not sure if its on purpose or not but I think he can
    certainly add it - just look at his character in Training Day -
    arrogant to the extreme and this kind of carries on into other films,
    Inside Man for example. He is also a bit annoying in this film,
    whenever me says 'My Man' and smiles I just want to slap his face.

    However, both of these guys have been in fairly decent films recently,
    especially Crow in 3.10 to Yuma. So I was of course open to them
    putting in great performances to make this a great film.

    I am not going to go over every point of the film but I Will quickly go
    over its major flaws Accents - come on Crowe - you are meant to be one
    of the best. Crowes accent was all over the place in this movie. There
    is a thread running on IMDb currently running at 6+ pages debating this
    point but I am 100% sure his accent wasn't consistent throughout.

    Gangster - this isn't a gangster film in the truest sense. Its nothing
    like Goodfellas/Scarface/The Departed/Usual Suspects etc. So you Will
    Be disappointed they used this title and made it look like something
    that it definitely is not (marketing eh?) instead expect something
    slower, much much slower...If you want to see loads of guns and
    killings and underground activity then this isn't the film for you.

    The length and pacing of this film is all wrong. It is too slow and too
    long. The vast majority of scenes jump from one place to another too
    quickly. Most of the scenes are too short and there are probably only 2
    or 3 really decent scenes. For my money none of these scenes really
    build up to somesort of peak like they do in the great movies.

    So what about Washington and Crowe? Well it is fair to say Crowe was
    much better in 3.10 to Yuma and in this film he is only really
    something of a bit part character as he is probably only getting 30% of
    screen time compared to Washingstons 70%. They were both OK but nothing
    special.

    Good points? Well there are not many. Of course the sets and costumes
    were definitely decent. The music was good but I was disappointed with
    the plot.

    Having read some of the comments at IMDb the 2 most appropriate words
    would be 'uninspiring' and 'dull' - its an OK film but it's definitely
    not as good as they are trying to make it look.

    Overall the film is above average. 7/10 - best of the year? Not at all.
    3.10 to Yuma is much better overall and deserves any award before
    American Gangster.

    Rating out of 10: 7
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    Name of Film: Eastern Promises (2007, David Cronenberg)

    Don't you just hate it when you really want to like a film? When ever inch of it oozes quality and class, and yet somehow you still didn't come away saying 'wow, that was amazing!'. When every fibre of your brain wants you to love this fantastically constructed movie, except that one tiny part, right at the back. The one that's screaming 'there's something missing!'. Eastern Promises is one of those films. I came out of the cinema honestly bewildered as to what I thought about it. So here I am, trying to do my best to write a review. Here goes...

    So let's begin at the beggining; story. London, the present day. A young, heavily pregnant girl wanders into a pharmacy and promptly collapses. She manages to survive just long enough for Anna - a Russian/English midwife, played by Naomi Watts - to deliver her baby before she dies from complications. In her purse, there's a diary, written entirely in Russian, and Anna sets out to get it translated. Meanwhile, Nikolai - played by Viggo Mortensen - is working his way up the ranks of the Russian mafia. Suddenly, their stories intertwine and become inexorably linked, heading towards what could become the downfall of the London Russian mafia.

    And this is perhaps the short-falling. It's not that it's badly told, or overly confusing - though you do have to have the brain switch set firm to 'On' for the duration. It's just that the story feels...incomplete, somehow. Like...the middle section of a trilogy. Like there's something that you're missing at the start, and something that still needs to be told come the end. It just is in dire need of some fleshing out that a 109 minute running time can't do justice to.

    Because the thing is, beyond the story, everything is actually superb. The direction is immaculate, and Cronenberg has a way of making this grand tale of gangsters scheming and innocents caught up in their wake seem somehow intimate and small-scale. He also continues his run of incredibly detailed violence. An odd description, yes; but that's the only word that fits. This is violence that makes you wince when it happens, twitch with every slash of a razor blade and cringe with each crunch of bone.

    There's one scene that'll totally change your perspective of asking for a hair-dryer, and another which will redfine your defintion of 'cinematic intensity'. The latter being an astonishingly visceral fight scene in a bath house. I won't give much more away, but suffice to say my legs were crossed, and were I a lesser man, I might've hid behind my fingers. But that's perhaps the genius of it, I couldn't wrench my eyes from the screen as it happen. It has a presence that almost demands that you watch, regardless of your constitution, and all credit for that lies with the director.

    The other truly noteworthy things about the movie are two of the performances. First, Viggo Mortensen; soaring to new heights of electrifying intensity. He inhabits Nikolai. He is Nikolai. And that, too, is one of the reasons why the aforementioned fight scene demands your attention. He also delivers some of the most darkly funny lines I've ever heard with a creepy smirk that is incredibly unnerving. Then there's Vincent Cassel's sexually ambigous Kirill; Cassel delivering a character that is abhorent and charismatic in equal measures. He's odd, drunk and grinning for half the movie, and the other half he's a devious, scheming ******* with a slightly disturbing light in his eyes. Naomi Watts - looking incredibly craggy and tired without her make-up - delivers the doe eyes and unbridled innocence that is required of the character, and Armin Mueller-Stahl lends his watery tones and shocking blue eyes to Kirill's father Semyon. They're all fascinating in their own ways.

    It's just such a shame that the story just seems to stop. But perhaps it's meant to; perhaps it's more of a delving into the culture and situation, rather than a piece of story-telling. Then again, isn't cinema there to tell stories at us? Regardless, it's difficult to say whether or not I truly liked this film. It's sensationally crafted, immaculately framed and wonderfully acted. But it just feels like there should be more, and that is something of a letdown. Recommendable, but don't expect to come out feeling wholly satisfied.

    Rating Out of 10: 7...maybe 8. No...6. Definitely 7. 8...
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    LPK! Why have you forsaken us?!?!
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    Sowwi.

    Tis updated now. :yy:
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    Rescue Dawn (2006: Werner Herzog)

    The opening scene of “Rescue Dawn” reminds us that Werner Herzog is an artisan of the aesthetic – his slow-motion shot of a plane soaring over a vast, plush landscape as explosions canvas the ground is poetic in very much the same way as the credit overlay in “Apocalypse Now” was. For all of Rescue Dawn’s blemishes, Herzog’s keen eagle eye for visuals cannot be faulted.

    Revisiting the central motif of his film “Grizzly Man”, Herzog’s newest picture is very much concerned with nature, and the raw elements it is comprised of. Whilst Rescue Dawn’s surface antagonists are humans, the protagonist’s ultimate test becomes one against the elements, one of not only staying alive and sustaining oneself, but remaining sane meanwhile.

    The film involves a young U.S. Navy pilot named Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), who is to partake in his first mission, a top-secret engagement during the Vietnam War. During this mission, Dengler is shot down over Laos, and is soon enough captured and imprisoned, joining a number of other soldiers already held there.

    Herzog’s film has a shaky start, beginning very procedurally and meandering into a melting pot of tiresome, overlong scenes of little importance, with very occasional excitement and intrigue. Even as Dengler crashes, it is awkwardly shot and lends itself to the production values of a TV serial.

    The first thirty minutes or so of Rescue Dawn employ little use of dialogue, which in of itself isn’t terrible, but the “actions speak louder than words” approach is only successful when there is an abundance of powerful or thoughtful imagery, of which this film is unfortunately devoid. It cannot be denied that Herzog captures impressive and visually stunning shots, but even from Herzog, they are not substantial enough to redeem the film from its mundane core. Herzog chooses in these moments to explore man and his interactions with nature, which is a palatable subject, yet he lingers far too long on seemingly pointless, overly-sedate moments.

    When the film finally begins to gain steam, Herzog throws a mix of good and bad at us. His decision to leave the Vietnamese speech unsubtitled keeps us as alienated as Dengler and his fellow prisoners, a smart and daring choice, yet he also dabbles in some wild idiosyncrasies , particularly with his insistence to throw line after line of awkward dialogue and enunciation at the rather unfortunate (for once) Christian Bale, who tries his hardest with the material, but himself also falters.

    I found myself struggling to identify with Dengler as a hero – he is only mildly likable from the outset, and whilst we sympathise with him for being thrown headfirst into an impossible situation, his temperament is never defined. Usually, this would be hailed as “complex character development”, but Herzog appears not to know where he wishes to venture with Dengler, resulting in a baffling character for a decent portion of the film’s first half.

    “Baffling” is a word one could use to describe much of Rescue Dawn – Herzog, for some reason, throws a number of strange elements at us, such as one of Dengler’s captors, a sympathetic midget, providing the film’s primary source of comic relief, and in general, the film makes far too many references to fecal matter for one’s preference in a film such as this. Further still, the guards are by and large a pack of jokers, and it feels nothing short of clichéd. The guards are dealt a semblance of humanity as the film progresses, but this is a mere footnote, considering some of their violent and inhumane acts throughout.

    As disappointing as the film becomes when considering the director involved, performance-wise, the film also leaves a dissatisfying taste. There is no “bad” acting as such, yet when one considers the involvement of Christian Bale, one would hope for a little more than the final product gives us, although how much Bale is to blame for this is debatable. At times, Bale’s portrayal feels overwrought to the point of hamminess (even moreso than in “American Psycho”), and whilst there’s no getting away from the fact that his Dengler is a deeply unfortuante being, Bale, through his performance, fails to construe this as well as he could have. Be that as it may, the dialogue Bale had to work with lacked flair, and so he is likely only half to blame.

    As Dengler and his cohorts plan and execute their escape, the film finally ratchets up the intensity, although this section is far too brief, and soon enough, we once again become bogged down in the drudgery of scenes that dawdle along when they should hit the ground running.

    As certain characters die or otherwise disappear, Herzog fails to draw fully, or much at all, on the emotional impact that this entails, much to the picture’s expense. Considering we learn that these men share a fairly tight bond, to simply pass up the chance for emotional catharsis in wake of their departure is a near-criminal error. Furthermore, the fact that, as the credits roll, we are still left wondering about the fates of several characters, is an irritation. One can recognise Herzog’s possible motivations, but considering the real Dengler undoubtedly discovered their fates eventually, to keep us in the dark is frustrating.

    Rescue Dawn takes a curious turn in its closing moments – it delves into explorations of jungle fever, and whilst Herzog restrains himself in not painting the screen red with a bloody, psychotic finale, to illustrate such an antiquated theme is a surprise, coming from Herzog - not a pleasant one, nor a terribly annoying one either, fortunately.

    The film’s close is largely preposterous and near-bulldozes any poignance the film was otherwise able to retain. As the credits roll, and we should raise our heads high at this display of unstoppable heroism, I instead found myself questioning the logic of what had just appeared before me, and why a wealth of melodrama was introduced to destroy what would otherwise have been a reflective, contemplative ending.

    Werner Herzog’s latest film is an ostensible disappointment – it is a bloated, overlong picture with disappointing performances and a bland script. The film is lush to behold, with a wealth of wonderful, memorable shots, yet without a great deal of interesting activity forming around these shots, we have something no more digestible than a series of paintings.

    Rating: 5/10
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    Bee Movie (2007)

    The idea of anthropomorphism is certainly nothing new in animated cinema, but in Bee Movie, written by comedy giant Jerry Seinfeld, one is driven to ask – is this one step too far?

    Bee Movie is essentially an allegory of the drudgery of human existence, namely as it pertains to one’s working life. Our protagonist, Barry Benson (Jerry Seinfeld), a bee, has recently graduated and become disenfranchised with the idea of making honey for the rest of his life. Through a series of events, Benson comes to learn that humans eat honey, and as such, endeavours to sue the human race. How such subject matter meanders into a children’s film is a curiosity, and I find myself thinking that adults may better identify with the film’s themes than the ankle-biting target audience.

    Bee Movie also employs a rather strange means of character modelling – the bee characters resemble human beings more than in any other film such as this, with even their skin tones closely resembling the white cross-section of society. When you combine this with the fact that the bees drive cars to work, it would at times become easy to forget that this is even a film about insects.

    As questionable as the film’s content can be, the visual effects are undeniably impressive, although will be starkly overshadowed by the visual feast that is Beowulf. There are numerous scenes of distinct chaos, all of which are appropriately bombastic and colourful, and as such are easy to simply sit back and absorb.

    Whilst one doesn’t expect moral complexity from a film such as this, the characters are incredibly black and white – the human who interacts with Benson, Vanessa (Renée Zellweger), is an exponent of animal rights, rather preposterously attesting that the life of a bee is as important as that of a human. Meanwhile, her boyfriend, Ken (voiced by Family Guy’s excellent Patrick Warburton) is very much the opposite, and quite rightly, I found myself agreeing with his sentiments.

    Some of the inherent mechanics of Bee Movie’s premise are materially strange – the fact that a bee alone can talk to a human is preposterous enough, but the fact that she can hear the minute sound that a bee is able to project is insane. Still, I see this not as an overt complaint – as a mechanic it is slightly clumsy and awkward-looking, but one soon gets used to it, and for whom this film ultimately concerns, they’re unlikely to be bothered by it. However, there is one sigh-inducing instance, in which Benson is able to overpower a human in a mock “sword fight” – whilst I don’t necessarily expect a scientifically plausible film, this came close to destroying the barrier entirely. That said, without most of these divergences, we wouldn’t have much of a film, would we now?

    As strange a choice as the premise is for a children’s film, there are also a number of adult jibes that will undoubtedly zoom far over the heads of the target audience. There was a rather surprising blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to sexually transmitted diseases (which left me unsure whether to laugh or fold my arms), and numerous cinematic references in Ray Liotta’s brief appearance.

    The real gems of Bee Movie are the numerous cameo appearances, including Chris Rock (as a blood-hungry mosquito), John Goodman (a slimy, morbidly obese and melodramatic lawyer), as well as Ray Liotta and Sting as themselves. There’s even a bee version of Larry King, inventively named “Bee Larry King”, an overly anthropomorphic character (in that he almost entirely resembles King to a tee), but Seinfeld makes light of this fact and its deliberation, so it hardly irritates.

    The idea of a bee taking legal action against the human race is about as preposterous a premise as one could excavate, and I largely expect that had Jerry Seinfeld or a similarly talented individual not appeared at the helm, then this project would have been thrown headlong into development Hell, or been given the red light from the outset. More to the point, the film’s finale barely befits the tone of the proceeding hour, with a high-octane finale placing human lives at stake. Naturally, we know that there’s never any real danger, and nobody will die in this film, yet it still feels like a cheesy, inane throwback to films such as Turbulence or about fifty direct-to-video action films, and worse still, the laws of physics are torn up, shredded, and shredded once more.

    As one can expect, everything returns to the status quo, the equilibrium is re-introduced, everyone gets their just desserts and the credits roll rather swiftly. Bee Movie is a feel good film by its end, but there’s a decent amount of adult content so very tactfully slotted in between the bright colours and pretty rendered faces. Given the film’s tone at times, with jokes about suicide pacts, I was half expecting the film to end with our sympathetic human protagonist turning out to be insane, having invented her conversations with the bee in her head, but alas, it wasn’t so, which is a shame, as it would have made for a considerably more entertaining film.

    Bee Movie is one of the more intriguing animated films to surface in a long time – it’s not that the film is outstanding in any aspect, but Seinfeld’s brand of humour transposed onto and disguised as a children’s film is either quite disconcerting, or incredibly smart on his part. The film is full of awkward action scenes, but each instance it falls down, it undoubtedly dazzles with slick, frenetic animation. Zellweger is appropriately irritating as the overexcited human protagonist, and the supporting cast, cameos and all, form most of what is enjoyable about Bee Movie. Seinfeld may need to reconsider who his target audience is, but this is an interesting and daring attempt at something a little different in the animated world.

    Rating: 6/10
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    P2 (2007)

    P2 is the latest entry into the canon of Christmas-time horror films, seemingly kick-started by last year’s hilariously bad Black Christmas. P2 is by no means a terrible film, but seems to be a case of director Franck Khalfoun attempting to instil a sense of complexity and worth into his project, when, for all means and purposes, it really isn’t necessary, especially when it seems this awkward and confused.

    The film’s premise harks back as far as horror films go – our protagonist, Angela (Rachel Nichols), is a happy-go-lucky, hard-working businesswoman, and as Khalfoun goes through the motions of establishing her as a fairly affable human being, I have to ask – would it kill him to just cut to the chase (no pun intended)? Angela essentially becomes locked inside a parking garage on Christmas Eve, entirely separated from humanity, as a sadistic stalker toys with her (Wes Bentley).

    P2 has its effective moments – as Angela saunters around the parking garage in her initial moments of despair, the garage becomes shrouded in darkness, and a very authentic sense of dread pervades through this. What I admired most about the opening portion of the film was the decision not to constantly shroud Bentley’s character in darkness, instead presenting him to us from the outset, and very quickly establishing him as a psychopath, without letting us know quite what his intentions are.

    We learn little of the antagonist’s past, but we do learn that he is not a cut and dry, garden variety lunatic – there is a dichotomy about this man, in that he accommodates the captive heroine, tending to her illnesses (although he did cause them through his use of chloroform). For a decent portion of P2, we are left unsure as to whether Tom is simply a lonely, confused man – we never learn of any parental issues or jilting ex-girlfriends, and whilst P2 is at times a cheesy film, this removes a layer in that respect.

    Where P2 begins to irk is as Angela and her captor engage in their first discourse, and we realise that Tom is too intelligent to the point of implausibility – his acts begin to show an air of deliberation, in that he knows all about Angela and her family. One would feel far more terrified of this character had he chosen his victim at random, yet the depth of planning Tom exhibits verges on unrealistic to the point of annoyance.

    What the film does right in regard to Bentley’s character is to confront him as an individual rather than hide him from us at every instance – often he encounters Angela in well-lit rooms, and whilst he traverses the darkness later on, it doesn’t feel like a cheap thrill for the most part.

    Regrettably, the film’s second half takes a distinct turn for the worse, even employing what appears to be a shameless pilfering of Saw-esque themes, as Tom unveils a few surprises locked away within the garage, such as an individual who recently violated Angela, and offers her the choice to exact her pound of flesh from him.

    Up until this point, P2 is surprisingly restrained with its blood and guts, not showering the screen with intestines and crushed skulls until over the half-way mark, and even then, the gore is fairly infrequent, although rather graphic when it does occur. With this comes another problem – the violence is ridiculously over-the-top, and not in a fun Kill Bill-esque fashion, either. This film intends to be serious, yet when a man’s insides quite literally fall out of him and blood splats onto car windshields with the velocity of a bullet train, one must ask where the lines between horror and parody converge.

    Despite the veritable overkills, Bentley’s stalking rarely, if ever appears unrealistic – we see coverage of him on security cameras getting from A to B, and he never emerges out of nowhere – all of it is reasoned and moderately practical.
    One inevitably has to ask how long a film set only in a parking garage can last, and moreover, how long it can maintain consistent. It becomes clear in the film’s second half that this isn’t very long, as our protagonist, the buxom Nichols, plods around various lifts and offices, soaking wet and frolicking in a rather revealing nightdress.

    Gorehounds will be disappointed by P2’s infrequent gore, and similarly, anyone searching for an intelligent plot should look elsewhere. After a fairly dull introduction, P2 begins to show a degree of promise, particular with Wes Bentley’s effectively chilling performance, yet it is mired by an inconsistent, and frankly, rather boring second half. This fatal game of cat-and-mouse grasps at straws tightly, and by the hour mark, even those none too fond of gratuitous violence may be calling for blood, if only to liven up this plodding, tiresome picture.

    For a film that has attempted to sidestep the endless number of clichés inundating the majority of modern Hollywood horror, the manner in which the film ends is devastatingly unoriginal, with our protagonist becoming fed up of running and instead metamorphosing into a certifiable badass, turning the tables on her aggressor. It’s none too satisfying, and in fact, quite preposterous.

    P2 distinguishes itself from other horror films very slightly – it reveals the threat to us from the outset, and isn’t mired by a wealth of terrible acting. Nichols’ performance is by no means impressive, but she isn’t terrible, and Wes Bentley, for the most part (other than when he starts screaming incomprehensibly, which almost inspires laughter) is a convincing psychopath. Had P2 endured a rewrite in its third act, then this would be an above-average horror thriller, instead of a marginally mediocre one.

    Rating: 5/10
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    Futurama: Bender's Big Score (2007)

    Futurama: Bender’s Big Score is the much-hyped return of the comedy animated series Futurama, senselessly cancelled by FOX in 2003. As is characteristic for sister shows such as The Simpsons and Family Guy, pot-shots at their malevolent puppeteers are in great abundance throughout this feature-length episode, berating FOX from near enough the opening frame, and then swiftly moving to refer to them as “asanine morons”.

    What became apparent early on in this film was the true disdain felt for the bigwigs at FOX, yet it appears that, at least to an extent, the writers have allowed too much of their anger to seep into their vision, and it quickly begins to saturate the film, draining the life and soul (as well as the fun) out of it. To deem this film a “misstep” is to undersell the astronomical blunder at hand here.

    Accepting its shortcomings, what Bender’s Big Score does well is to retain every bit of the artistic genius of the series – a plentiful array of oddball characters are thrown at us, and the writers do well to parody Internet scammers, the Bush/Gore election, and even their little brother – Family Guy.

    The very basic premise for the film is that a rabble of Internet scammer aliens con the Planet Express crew out of their company and place Bender under their control to steal ancient treasures, kick-starting a time-spanning adventure, whilst truths about Fry’s past and future are revealed.

    Bender’s Big Score is an entertaining film, in that nobody will argue its artistic merits, yet it seems to be sorely lacking in any deal of uproarious humour. Belly laughs are nowhere to be found, and most attempts at a jibe are met with a mere smile. Essentially, it appears that this film is simply a stylistic demonstration, a tech demo, if you will – the effects are as wondrous as they ever were, but the lifeblood (that is, the humour) of this production is nowhere to be found.

    One would be able to forgive the writers for the lack of laughs if the storyline itself could compensate, yet even that leaves much to be desired. The interpretation of time travel offered here certainly isn’t my favourite one, and even for die-hard fans of the series, this may simply end up confusing you. A word of warning – pay close, vigilant attention to the screen at all times, as focusing yourself elsewhere for even a few moments may be at your own head-scratching expense.

    The film is very much one for the dedicated, militant fans of the show – there are a ridiculous amount of obscure references to previous episodes that will undoubtedly be lost on anyone not familiar with the show. Moreover, anyone coming in cold is going to be very confused for the majority of the film – a large portion of the plot relates to time travel, and changing past events, with which newbies or casual fans cannot identify and will be largely unfamiliar. Even as a huge fan of the series, I must attest that I found the use of time travel in the storyline to be superfluous, and frankly, by the film’s end, rather irritating.

    Perhaps the most repugnant sin of this film’s making is its insistence to frequently, unabashedly slate FOX, even all-too-occasionally making use of an esoteric, all-purpose powder named “Executive Producer” in situations that make little sense, and furthermore, they take the FOX-bashing from levels of acceptability to irritability. The film’s writers, instead of revelling in everything that was fantastic about the show, seem contented, and moreover, insistent on reminding us of the ill hand dealt to them by FOX. Yes, the cancellation was, as Seth McFarlane similarly commented in regard to his show, Family Guy, a “**** move”. Yes, FOX have cancelled a multitude of critical darlings, such as Joss Whedon’s wonderfully spirited sci-fi western Firefly, the wildly funny Freaks and Geeks, and even McFarlane’s own Family Guy (before reviving it years later), but by the end of this film, I felt like declaring – “Be grateful you’re back, and make the best of it!”, neither of which the film’s helmers seemed to do.

    The film seeks to slightly redeem itself in the final scenes, treating us to a wonderfully-envisioned space battle with a fantastic orchestral score, yet it only serves to reinforce my chief complaint of this venture – the laughs are very much gone. A twist ending is thrown in for good measure, and had I still cared about the plot at this point in time, then it would have been half-effective, although plenty will see it coming, thinly veiled as it is.

    The most intriguing aspect of the episode is the manner in which it all ends – we are left on an exciting cliffhanger, and I can only assume that the next feature-length film will continue this. If not, it will join the laundry list of fatal flaws in this, the first of four Futurama films.

    When you take a sub-par episode of Futurama and protract it to eighty-five excruciating minutes, the final result is a regrettably tiring, disheartening endeavour, and even by the half-way mark, I couldn’t wait for this film to end. I had given up caring about the show that I once upon a time signed Internet petitions for, in a vain attempt to save the once-wonderful ensemble of artistic ingenuity and comic brilliance. “Shadow of its former self” is a very apt appropriation here, and it is with deep woe that I deem Bender’s Big Score to be an over-hyped disappointment.


    Rating: 6/10
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    Enchanted (2007)

    Enchanted’s opening moments serve as a wonderful hark back to the classic animation of yesteryear, and even as someone not terribly fond of grand musical interludes, I was frankly taken aback and very much, dare I say, enchanted by this film.

    The premise is such - Giselle (Amy Adams), soon to be Princess, is on the lookout for love in Prince Edward (James Marsden), whilst the evil Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) wishes to foil this plan to retain her prestige. The setup for Enchanted is unoriginal, but it has been so long since we have seen this dynamic in any sort of animated form that it is an instant win for director Kevin Lima.

    Whilst the opening animated sequence borrows from Snow White (among other Disney classics) in many ways, the meat of the film is unlike anything else that Disney have cooked up over the years. Through the Queen’s meticulous scheme, Giselle becomes banished to a world where there are no happy endings – the “real world”.

    As the film transforms from animation to live action, enter the gloriously dolled-up Amy Adams, traipsing around New York City in a gigantic white dress, entirely oblivious to what is going on around her. Enchanted is a classic “out of towner in the big city” story with a fantastical twist – the real world is a colossal culture shock to Giselle, as she learns upon being mugged (in hilarious fashion) by a homeless man.

    Soon enough, she meets Robert, played by Patrick Dempsey, who, along with the majority of the cast of the horrendous Grey’s Anatomy, I had near enough written off. Nonetheless, Giselle, who is simply looking to find her way home, becomes embroiled in Robert’s life, and frankly, with her high-pitched voice and snazzy dress sense, who could blame Robert for thinking that she had escaped from the local asylum?

    In perhaps one of the film’s few weak points of development, Robert allows Giselle to sleep at his place despite his previous trepidation, although this is very much his character all over – he buckles to her charms, and says more about Robert as a character than any sort of weak scriptwriting.

    From this point, Prince Edward and his trusty chipmunk sidekick arrive on the scene to rescue Giselle. It becomes evident from James Marsden’s first live-action scene in this film that he had great fun with this role, hurling himself into it completely with a rare energy seen nowadays. As with his memorable turn in this year’s Hairspray, Marsden shows his knack for these melodramatic, charismatic roles, and moreover, who could resist that smile?

    Enchanted is not without its curiosities, such as how Giselle knows quite what a vacuum cleaner is as she sings about it, but that’s probably one of the less ridiculous things about this film, considering it has vermin scrubbing a toilet with toothbrushes. The film is full of such divergences, but they are forgivable, and more to the point, acceptable ones.

    As can be quite predictably expected, all of this chaos causes an upheaval in Robert’s personal and professional life. Robert is given a number of opportunities to get rid of Giselle, and under normal circumstances, I would become irritated when he doesn’t, but given how this is a live-action fairytale, and an ironic one at that, juxtaposing the real life and the transcendental, I can show some mercy. Also, let’s face it – Amy Adams is just that charming – she adds a bravery to her role by adding a face to the would-be animated voice.

    The film generally does well to steer clear from irritation, although it is not without its instances of unadulterated cheese, such as an impromptu dance number in the middle of Central Park. In its defense, it isn’t anything more over-the-top than you would see in a normal Disney film, and it is just as well telegraphed.

    The course of the film envisions a dichotomous change for our characters – Giselle becomes humanised, employing an air of rational thought (even at one point, quite hilariously, feeling anger), whilst Robert begins to exhibit a fresher, more romanticised outlook on life. Giselle’s influence on not only Robert but the world around her is profound, her magic aura touching many lives, whilst all the positives of the corporeal world rub off on Giselle and her Prince.

    Aside from the evil Queen arriving on Earth to take care of Giselle herself, the film posits a veiled question of morality, love and relationships. Regrettably, the answer didn’t really seem within the ironic vein of the rest of the picture, instead leaning towards a clean, fairytale solution rather than an authentic one. I’m not sure if it sends the right message to the youngsters of 2007, but again, it hasn’t done anything that Disney hasn’t already been doing for the last seventy years, and like classics such as Mulan, Enchanted, by its end, presents us with an exceedingly strong female protagonist. Heck, the film even puts in a good word for stepmothers everywhere!

    All in all, I didn’t expect, but merely hope for a more complex solution to the issues that Enchanted raises, rather than the syrupy ending we’re treated to. Still, this is a solid urban fairytale with electrifying performances, namely from the wonderful Amy Adams, but also from James Marsden, and the surprisingly tolerable Patrick Dempsey. The film serves well to remain tongue-in-cheek right up until its final moments, and even despite the problematic third act, it is difficult to hold a grudge against a film where the term “feel good” has rarely been more apt.


    Rating: 7/10
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    Name of Film: Beowulf (Robert Zemeckis, 2007)

    If you know Robert Zemeckis, you know he's a sucker for technical wizardry. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Back to the Future, Contact, The Polar Express, Monster House...heck, even Forrest Gump had Tom Hanks' gurning, intensely annoying simpleton superimposed into historical footage. And Beowulf is no different; in fact, it's probably the pinnacle of his technical achievements.

    Perhaps the most interesting thing about Beowulf is the decision to go with the 'performance capture' technique at all. We've all seen that fantasy works perfectly well outside of animation - despite heavy usage of special effects - so why not just stick with a formula that works? Superficially, the answer is 'because we can! Suck it!'; but delving a little deeper, and it because perfectly clear as to why Zemeckis chose the technique.

    Story-wise...well, if you don't know it, what planet have you been living on? Still, here goes: ancient Denmark is being terrorised by the monster Grendel, and word is spread that untold riches will be awarded to the man who slays it. Beowulf - a mighty Geat warrior - hears of this, and decides that he shall be the one to kill Denmark's monster. Of course, he will also have to deal with Grendel's mother, but therein could lie a problem.

    And then there's the first reason why Zemeckis' decision is clear. The casting. Ray Winstone - an ageing, balding, slightly over-weight 50-something - plays Beowulf, a blonde...well, it's been thrown about already, but the guy is an Adonis; all rippling muscles, ruggedly handsome face and scars everywhere. But then again, Winstone wasn't cast for his physique; he was cast for what he could bring to the role - a sort of naive bravado at first, which slowly and inexorably evolves until he becomes a hero in every sense of the word. And Winstone portrays it beautifully, seeing as Beowulf is Winstone, albeit digitally altered. You can forgive him a few spotty accent moments - and there are quite a few - for an otherwise superb performance.

    The rest of the cast - barring an unusually awful turn from John Malkovich - are all solid, with Anthony Hopkins having a huge amount of fun with the drunken King Hrothgar, and Robin Wright Penn bringing a quiet dignity to his trophy Queen Wealthrow. Angelina Jolie brings a guilty pleasure aspect to the movie - seeing her all but naked and bathed in gold is quite simply fascinating, and her accent is, to be quite honest, rather haunting. Not that her astonishing beauty has nothing to do with the story, but that's best saved for when you actually go see the film.

    The script is solid; it adds a few layers that the rather one-dimensional original lacks, and compacts it somewhat to take place in one place, although this can be construed as adding complexity to what should have been a straightforward tale. Interesting, too, is the decision to constrain the story to merely three - albeit stunningly realised - major locations, and coupled with the added depth, it simply feels richer than other realisations of the story.

    If there are problems with it, it does seem that Zemeckis has been heavily influenced by other fantasy epics - most notably the now infamous 300, particularly in the fact that the protagonist seems do a lot of manly shouting, much like the three-hundred Spartans did. The stylised violence, too, seems a bit over-directed at times; and it raises the question as to whatever happened to good old straightforward fight scenes.

    But deep down, this is just a full-blooded fantasy/action film; and thus you don't really have to have the old noodle switched on to fully enjoy it. Be warned, it's certainly at the high-end of its 12A certification - there are some really quite scary moments, and the aforementioned nudity of the Jolie kind. But if you can stomach that - and for the latter, who couldn't? - then there's a hell of a lot to like about Beowulf. Excellent stuff.

    Rating Out of 10: 8
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    Name of Film: Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Shekhar Kapur, 2007)

    Let’s get two things out of the way from the off. I haven’t seen the first Elizabeth movie. I do know about, I have heard of it, and I know that it garnered Cate Blanchett an Academy Award, and it is – supposedly – brilliant. Still, I was also told that the second film functioned perfectly adequately on its own. But then again, when a movie is shoved so far up its own backside, it simply fails to function at all. Second, I’m not exactly a history buff, and thusly many of the historical inaccuracies that my more history-minded friends have been pointing out have entirely eluded me. So this’ll be an evaluation based entirely on its merit as a film. And disappointingly, it falls rather flat.

    The bizarre thing is that the movie is infinitely inferior to the sum of its own parts. There are things about it that absolutely scream quality at the viewer – the sumptuous set and costume design, the charged performances from most of the actors involved, the grand and sweeping vistas of sixteenth century England, Scotland and Spain. But somewhere along the line it loses all cohesion and devolves into a very pretty mess.

    This is mostly down to director Shekhar Kapur, and somewhat down to cinematographer Remi Adefarasin. The former is at fault for allowing himself to get rather carried away with the whole thing, escalating it to ridiculous proportions when it should have been a rather more intimate tale of a grand and testing time for a great woman. The latter, the *******, did everything in his power to make me feel sea-sick, and almost managed it with a swirling, 360-degree spin of a set of turquoise spiral stairs that almost had me heaving out my lunch. Never since Domino have I actually felt physically ill thanks to camera work, but well done, Remi, you’ve managed it.

    This isn’t to say that this was so over-whelming that the good-points of the movie completely sailed over my head. Blanchett is fascinating as the under-fire monarch, persecuted from all sides and yet somehow able to maintain her veneer of calm. It’s exemplified by a moment when one of her closest friends betrays her, and her scream of rage and sadness is truly haunting. If there is such a thing as a truly Oscar-worthy performance, this is certainly one of them, and if there’s a been a better performance in such a lacklustre film, I’ll eat my hat and proclaim myself a Dutchman.

    And amid the confused mess that is the film’s visual narrative, there are some strikingly iconic pieces of imagery. Particularly of the Queen herself, sitting regal amidst the chaos that is her court and realm. But the problem with them is that it’s almost like Kapur is trying too hard to make them iconic – seeing as these moments seem to appear thick and fast – and thus their clout is lessened somewhat upon the fourteenth viewing of such a remarkable piece of imagery within five minutes of the last one.

    All in all, Elizabeth: The Golden Age smacks more of Lizzie: The Only-Vaguely-Decent Years; for all its pomp and drama, it just fails to engage at anything other than a purely superficial level. And even then, it has a tendency to make me feel rather ill. Only worth it for Blanchett’s performance; if you’re not interested in that, avoid.


    Rating Out of 10: 5
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    Paranoid Park (2007)

    It’s old school, it’s retrograde, it’s Paranoid Park – the latest outing from Gus Van Sant. Accompanied by an array of grainy handheld shots of various young persons skateboarding, we learn that Paranoid Park is essentially the skateboarding Mecca, and that “nobody was ever ready for it”, least of all troubled teenager Alex (Gabe Nevins).

    I am always sure to be highly sceptical of films that seem to be trying far too hard to retain a “hip” quality, and from the moment we were introduced to a teacher who sounded very much like the skateboarders he was attempting to educate, my confidence began to wane.

    As Alex is called into the principal’s office to speak to a police officer, it becomes evident very quickly that something isn’t right – Alex has clearly done something wrong, but what? A cool, trendy film is suddenly given a macabre jolt – Paranoid Park is, in fact, a film polarised by the suspicious death of a security guard, with our hoodie-clad protagonist at the cusp of the finger-pointing.

    Paranoid Park is an oddly structured film indeed – Van Sant frequently cuts to poetically shot, yet nevertheless disorientating interludes, ranging from slow-motion sweeps of faceless individuals skateboarding, to Alex simply ordering some fast food, for seemingly no reason at all. You could argue that such fancies seek to bridge the narrative, and whilst they do, it’s in the most banal, sigh-inducing manner possible. Running in at a slim 85 minutes, this is a minimalist film by all means, yet there is still the insistence to grind its gears to a halt at all the wrong moments, only for Van Sant to say “Look what I can do with slow-motion”.

    Eventually, some information is nonchalantly tossed our way, but I wondered very early on – was this going to link by the end of the film? Are these reverie-esque moments going to provide a deeper meaning in an hour’s time? Moreover, is sitting through more uses of the word “like” than I can physically stomach going to be worth it? Sadly, the answer to most of these questions is a resounding “no”.

    After half an hour of what I would loosely call “meditative” scenes, with plenty of prancing around on screen by all involved, the murder mystery aspect of the film’s narrative finally rears its underexposed head. This film is at its best when the cheerfully-slick detective is sniffing around the skater groups, free of slow-motion shots and ambient sound effects, yet sadly, these moments are lacking in abundance.

    Regrettably, most scenes of interest are framed by these unrestrained, flagrant moments of self-indulgence from Van Sant, never allowing us to fully engage with the film’s characters and their rather unfortunate sets of circumstances. At first, I was able to forgive such extravagance, but by the half-way point, this technique was well and truly redundant.

    Bravely, however, Van Sant reveals the devilishly simple circumstances of the security guard’s death fairly early on in the picture. A lesser film would have saved this for a “shocking” turn at the end, yet the decision to throw it in at little over half way knocked me for six, and caused me to wonder where exactly it was going to go from here. Now that the facts are known, will it focus less on enigma, and more on character?

    Again, the answer is no. Any identification we attempt to confer between ourselves and the protagonist in particular is drowned by these ridiculous breaks in the narrative, which simply act as overlong window-dressing to an already flailing production. Paranoid Park is a portrait without context – we witness Alex taking his girlfriend’s virginity, yet we never learn its importance – why show this to us other than to pad out an already diluted script? There is only one slight hint at the need for this scene, and whilst one could argue that it’s all about Alex's underlying machinations (in his apathy and disinterestedness towards this pretty girl), I will scoff, as I think it’s giving the film far too much credit.

    The final moments of Paranoid Park are a sort of dark, restrained catharsis. Are they satisfying? Not entirely, although given the options the characters had left, and how it could have gone, it wasn’t entirely the wrong way to end things.

    Paranoid Park feels like an audacious effort on the part of an acclaimed director, and I find myself asking why. When you strip this film down to its bare bones, remove the slow-motion and actually look for some steak among all that sizzle, you’re going to likely be grossly disappointed. Paranoid Park is simply the remains of the day, with about an hour’s worth of scenes which are moderate in quality, yet where its consistency lies is in squandering the halfway-intriguing murder investigation. This film could have redeemed itself had it dealt with Alex more as a character and less as a fairly dislikeable stereotype, yet it seems comfortable in simply arousing our senses with more than its fair share of impressive cinematography.

    As I recently commented of Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn, one must always respect the pursuits of artisans, yet when a picture is shamelessly, flagrantly empty, so devoid of substance, no amount of wondrous cinematography can compensate. Paranoid Park will certainly find its audience with those who don’t require a well-crafted narrative to enjoy a film, but for anyone else, this is a disappointing, near-pointless, and dare I say, pretentious film. Perhaps what this film does best is illustrate to us what happens when you take the pen out of an auteur’s hand, and replace it with a paint brush – the results can be spectacular, but as with this film, they can also leave a foul taste. Paranoid Park is no better than a clichéd action film, or a thriller with a silly, unnecessary twist, and further still, is infinitely more irritating.

    Rating: 4/10
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    Hitman (2007)

    Hitman, the adaptation of the excellent computer game franchise of the same name, will undoubtedly have fans flocking in their droves to witness slick assassin, Agent 47, on the big screen. The horde of fans bring with them the minute glimmer of hope that it will join the few game-to-film adaptations that, frankly, haven’t been derivative, uninspired messes.

    What is apparent very quickly is how preposterously miscast Timothy Olyphant is as the protagonist – he lacks the deep, suave voice of David Bateson, and I’m left wondering why Bateson himself wasn’t just cast as the lead. Of course, I then woke up and remembered that Olyphant, who, I have nothing against, is becoming quite the household name, whilst Bateson’s score sheet is distinctly empty. I cringed at the initial casting choice of Vin Diesel, yet having seen this film, and considering how my own favourite, John Malkovich, would never sign onto a project such as this (although he was in Eragon), I’m inclined to think Diesel wouldn’t have been so bad.

    The basic premise of Hitman involves Inspector Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott) on the hunt for Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant), who is purported to have assassinated over one hundred people. 47, however, is a phantom, rarely leaving a trace, and even more rarely being outsmarted.

    Hitman, like the games on which it is based, travels all over Europe, docking for a while in St. Petersburg, a central location of the second game in the series. As a militant fan of the games, this pleased me, but as soon 47 begins taking shots at the bar and interacts with a cute Russian woman, who professes to him the importance of drinking etiquette, I began to lose faith. This is a film which, like this year’s horrendous Redline, people will love to label as “Eurotrash”, and whilst I dislike the term, it is rather apt from the outset.

    Fortunately, at least to an extent, Hitman attempts to remain in the vein of the games – Hitman is frequently as cold and callous as ever. His assassinations are swift, but mostly lend themselves to the brutality of the games. With its generous squibs of blood, and fair instances of breasts on display, this isn’t a PG13 endeavour, although the screen is hardly showered in blood either. As hard as everyone on board tries, I will never, for the life of me understand why screenwriter Skip Woods felt the need to have 47 partake in the ever-clichéd emotional shower scene.

    Fairly early on in the film, the central storyline from the games is suggested (involving clones), yet, as with 47’s past, it is never expanded upon in any satisfying detail beyond a brief spell of grainy, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flashbacks. Ergo, if you’ve never played the games, then I imagine that parts of this film will leave you utterly clueless – through and through, this is for gamers above all else.

    Behind all of the tussles for jurisdiction and bad Russian accents, this could be a far worse adaptation – as a SWAT team descend upon 47, it is incredibly reminiscent of parts of the second and third games, even if it employs far more theatrics, and, to be precise, many more preposterous explosions. That said, the game counterpart of 47 was a clear-cut anti-hero, and here I’m not so sure. He effortlessly kills sixteen SWAT team members in the film’s opening battle, yet these men were not party to some sort of maleficent conspiracy – they were merely men doing their jobs. In the games, near enough everyone 47 killed deserved it.

    Moral values of assassins aside, in investigating the supposed re-emergence of a man he killed just hours earlier, 47 comes into contact with the man’s girlfriend, Nika (Olga Kurylenko) who, as you can quite rightly guess, is the love interest of our story.

    The contrivances just pile on from here, with insanely lucky escapes and ridiculously slick disguises. One can tolerate such mechanics in a game, yet for the filmic adaptation, I hoped that the helmers would possess the smarts to tone down the madness a tad, but alas, no dice.

    Hitman comfortably transcends into the laughable when 47 manages to corner and best an assassin sent to kill him, yet rather than interrogate him (even if the chances of getting answers are slim), he simply riddles him with bullets, and then spouts a horrific one-liner. The manner in which he ends the assassin will cause many a cinemagoer to cringe.

    47 soon enough finds himself aboard a train, embroiled in a truly strange swordfight against a band of seeming clones. For good, politically correct measure, the filmmakers are even sure to throw a black “clone” into the mix, despite the fact that these agents are all meant to look like 47, if any consideration is to be taken in regard to source material continuity.

    Agent 47 is an inconsistent character to say the least – he, without hesitation, blows up an entire SWAT team, yet hesitates when faced with Inspector Whittier, someone who is a considerable threat to 47’s freedom. Moreover, Nika appears to slowly melt his heart, and the accompanying scenes of levity just feel like an affront; a slap in the face to fans of the games.

    There is a shootout of considerable firepower about an hour into the film – it’s hyperactive, it’s loud, and it just doesn’t feel very Hitman at all. To top it all off, 47 even spouts another choice phrase before dropping the last goon in the room. The film’s sort-of saving grace is its finale, where I had little idea quite what was going to happen. It’s all appropriately tense, with the occasional wink and nod to the games, even if the action is far, far too frenzied.

    Even fans of the games will be left scratching their heads at the sheer absurdity of the film’s ending – there is the high possibility of a sequel, although I hope this is not the case. Hitman is a generic action thriller with a tiresome, clichéd plot and Russian accents that are even worse. Upon seeing it, fans of the game may proclaim “I see what they did there”, but this film feels more like a fleeting reference to the series upon which it is based rather than an actual adaptation. Olyphant was completely miscast, and the only tolerable performance in this film was by Dougray Scott, who, frankly, shouldn’t be appearing in films such as this anyway.

    Rating: 5/10
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    9 Songs (2004)

    Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs is a sexual experience from near enough its first frame. The film’s premise is incredibly straightforward – Matt (Kieran O’Brien) and Lisa (Margo Stilley) meet at a concert, and 9 Songs is essentially an expression of their love story, which just so happens to rather loosely revolve around music.

    From the outset, we must consider where the line between glamourised pornography and artistic sexual expression is drawn, and furthermore, whether Winterbottom’s film is able to transcend this line. A number of the film’s sex scenes are unsimulated, which has been a high point of contention for the filmmakers actually attempting to tender a release for the film. Genitals, both male and female, are in full display, and while it is in a sense refreshing, the film is sure to alienate and embarrass the more body-conscious viewers among us.

    Initially, 9 Songs appears to follow the format of a presentation of seemingly sage information about Matt’s expedition to Antarctica, followed by a scene of intense intimacy, followed again by a musical interlude. Given the repetition and questionable narrative structure of the film, one can understand the criticism leveled against it almost immediately.

    The film at points appears to settle down, yet just as an interesting or thoughtful strand of dialogue appears to emerge, it transpires into a sex session. It is difficult to know what the director is trying to say, that is, if he is trying to say anything at all.

    Despite my outward criticisms, I must defend the film largely against accusations of it being extremely pornographic – it rarely shows direct penetration and is mostly inferred. As such, the film may be a loosely strung together concertina of sex scenes, but porn it is not.

    In lieu of all of this sex and debauchery, the film at least posits the idea of safe sexual interaction, and whilst a pack of Durex are hard to come by in 9 Songs, in one instance, a condom is clearly, visibly in use.

    By the time the fourth song booms out and we’re dropped back into the Brixton Academy once again, I was beginning to wonder – is this a music festival? Are they going to a concert every night? Are the 9 songs metaphors for something? Unfortunately, the explanation is nowhere near as interesting as the latter question, but it did make me wonder – are these people loaded?

    A very curious lesbian-esque conflict is introduced in the latter stages of the film – it appears to be an attempt to inject emotion into our hedonistic characters. However, considering we feel little-to-nothing for these individuals due to their distinct lack of characterisation (in that all we ever see is them having sex), this attempt ultimately fails.

    The gravity of the conflict between Matt and Lisa is expressed through the symbolic meaning of the songs, or rather, the act of going to the concert. Matt, in his next visit to the Academy, attends alone – he is on a whole over wavelength, listening to an completely different song, if you will, and whether this is reflective of a culture clash or something else entirely different, is anyone’s guess. We are also quickly shown a bottle of pills, but its significance is up for debate – we learn who they belong to, but nothing else. There are subtle hints as to who may be suffering from what, but they are exactly that – very subtle, and nothing more than hints.

    There is one portion of 9 Songs that I find incredibly difficult to defend – Lisa administers oral sex to Matt in rather unflattering close-up, which I didn’t personally object to, but, in what is the most critically reviled and shocking portion of the film, Matt is shown ejaculating. It just feels unnecessary – the slurping noises are vile in particular, yet no more disturbing than the fact that we can hear children playing outside, presumably mere feet away.

    Only in the final sex scene is the viewer able to extricate any definitive, emotive meaning, yet once again, we are barely familiarised enough with these characters beyond their acts of chemical exchange, and so an attempt at causing us to feel anything simply appears forced. The manner in which the film ends, whilst certainly not particularly unique or interesting, was a smart move, considering the temptation that must have lingered to pile on sentiment and clichés. In this respect, in the only manner in which it can be asserted, 9 Songs is a restrained picture.

    The ambiguity of the fate of Matt and Lisa’s relationship is an interesting point on which the film ends – the director chooses not to romanticise or force-feed his creation or his audience with even a hint of a slant in either direction, deftly reflecting the fickleness of relationships and the meticulousness with which they must be preened.

    9 Songs, as an experimental film, is an interesting exercise, yet it is difficult to consider it a success when everything outside of the sex scenes is either dull, pointless, emotionally corrupt or all of the above. The film should be commended for its daring attempt at capturing raw, gritty, penetrative sex onto celluloid, yet we are overexposed to these moments at the detriment of the film’s effectiveness. Winterbottom shows us more than is necessary to convey the love and affection felt between these characters, and accompanies these moments with musical interludes that appear to have little significance symbolically, thematically, or otherwise. I cannot bring myself to condemn Winterbottom, because the film is not without its meritorious moments, yet at the same time, one cannot consider 9 Songs to effectively traverse the line of glorified pornography, so much as it narrowly scrapes past it.

    Rating: 5/10
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    (Original post by asdasta)
    Rescue Dawn (2006: Werner Herzog)

    The opening scene of “Rescue Dawn” reminds us that Werner Herzog is an artisan of the aesthetic – his slow-motion shot of a plane soaring over a vast, plush landscape as explosions canvas the ground is poetic in very much the same way as the credit overlay in “Apocalypse Now” was. For all of Rescue Dawn’s blemishes, Herzog’s keen eagle eye for visuals cannot be faulted.

    Revisiting the central motif of his film “Grizzly Man”, Herzog’s newest picture is very much concerned with nature, and the raw elements it is comprised of. Whilst Rescue Dawn’s surface antagonists are humans, the protagonist’s ultimate test becomes one against the elements, one of not only staying alive and sustaining oneself, but remaining sane meanwhile.

    The film involves a young U.S. Navy pilot named Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), who is to partake in his first mission, a top-secret engagement during the Vietnam War. During this mission, Dengler is shot down over Laos, and is soon enough captured and imprisoned, joining a number of other soldiers already held there.

    Herzog’s film has a shaky start, beginning very procedurally and meandering into a melting pot of tiresome, overlong scenes of little importance, with very occasional excitement and intrigue. Even as Dengler crashes, it is awkwardly shot and lends itself to the production values of a TV serial.

    The first thirty minutes or so of Rescue Dawn employ little use of dialogue, which in of itself isn’t terrible, but the “actions speak louder than words” approach is only successful when there is an abundance of powerful or thoughtful imagery, of which this film is unfortunately devoid. It cannot be denied that Herzog captures impressive and visually stunning shots, but even from Herzog, they are not substantial enough to redeem the film from its mundane core. Herzog chooses in these moments to explore man and his interactions with nature, which is a palatable subject, yet he lingers far too long on seemingly pointless, overly-sedate moments.

    When the film finally begins to gain steam, Herzog throws a mix of good and bad at us. His decision to leave the Vietnamese speech unsubtitled keeps us as alienated as Dengler and his fellow prisoners, a smart and daring choice, yet he also dabbles in some wild idiosyncrasies , particularly with his insistence to throw line after line of awkward dialogue and enunciation at the rather unfortunate (for once) Christian Bale, who tries his hardest with the material, but himself also falters.

    I found myself struggling to identify with Dengler as a hero – he is only mildly likable from the outset, and whilst we sympathise with him for being thrown headfirst into an impossible situation, his temperament is never defined. Usually, this would be hailed as “complex character development”, but Herzog appears not to know where he wishes to venture with Dengler, resulting in a baffling character for a decent portion of the film’s first half.

    “Baffling” is a word one could use to describe much of Rescue Dawn – Herzog, for some reason, throws a number of strange elements at us, such as one of Dengler’s captors, a sympathetic midget, providing the film’s primary source of comic relief, and in general, the film makes far too many references to fecal matter for one’s preference in a film such as this. Further still, the guards are by and large a pack of jokers, and it feels nothing short of clichéd. The guards are dealt a semblance of humanity as the film progresses, but this is a mere footnote, considering some of their violent and inhumane acts throughout.

    As disappointing as the film becomes when considering the director involved, performance-wise, the film also leaves a dissatisfying taste. There is no “bad” acting as such, yet when one considers the involvement of Christian Bale, one would hope for a little more than the final product gives us, although how much Bale is to blame for this is debatable. At times, Bale’s portrayal feels overwrought to the point of hamminess (even moreso than in “American Psycho”), and whilst there’s no getting away from the fact that his Dengler is a deeply unfortuante being, Bale, through his performance, fails to construe this as well as he could have. Be that as it may, the dialogue Bale had to work with lacked flair, and so he is likely only half to blame.

    As Dengler and his cohorts plan and execute their escape, the film finally ratchets up the intensity, although this section is far too brief, and soon enough, we once again become bogged down in the drudgery of scenes that dawdle along when they should hit the ground running.

    As certain characters die or otherwise disappear, Herzog fails to draw fully, or much at all, on the emotional impact that this entails, much to the picture’s expense. Considering we learn that these men share a fairly tight bond, to simply pass up the chance for emotional catharsis in wake of their departure is a near-criminal error. Furthermore, the fact that, as the credits roll, we are still left wondering about the fates of several characters, is an irritation. One can recognise Herzog’s possible motivations, but considering the real Dengler undoubtedly discovered their fates eventually, to keep us in the dark is frustrating.

    Rescue Dawn takes a curious turn in its closing moments – it delves into explorations of jungle fever, and whilst Herzog restrains himself in not painting the screen red with a bloody, psychotic finale, to illustrate such an antiquated theme is a surprise, coming from Herzog - not a pleasant one, nor a terribly annoying one either, fortunately.

    The film’s close is largely preposterous and near-bulldozes any poignance the film was otherwise able to retain. As the credits roll, and we should raise our heads high at this display of unstoppable heroism, I instead found myself questioning the logic of what had just appeared before me, and why a wealth of melodrama was introduced to destroy what would otherwise have been a reflective, contemplative ending.

    Werner Herzog’s latest film is an ostensible disappointment – it is a bloated, overlong picture with disappointing performances and a bland script. The film is lush to behold, with a wealth of wonderful, memorable shots, yet without a great deal of interesting activity forming around these shots, we have something no more digestible than a series of paintings.

    Rating: 5/10
    You are way, way out with this review. You've rated Saw IV as a better film than Rescue Dawn! How you can call Steve Zahn and Christian Bale's acting poor is astonishing. I know it is entirely a matter of opinion and you are entitled to yours but I cannot believe quite how much you have slated a very good film. I'll try and post my own review in the next few days so you can see the argument for what i'm saying
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    I very much wanted to like Rescue Dawn, but I thought it was a pretty meh film, and even moreso, a very meh Herzog film. This one totally threw me, as I wanted to like it, and lots of people seem to. I thought it was a bland, soulless bore.

    Don't declare me to be "way, way out", though. I find that kind of offensive. It's an opinion, and you should respect it as I shall yours. Yes, I, even to my own surprise, enjoyed Saw IV more - at least it was unpretentious and knew what it was doing.
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    My apologies, I did go a little overboard. I'll try and post my review later today. Have got an essay to write first though unfortunately


    (Original post by asdasta)
    I very much wanted to like Rescue Dawn, but I thought it was a pretty meh film, and even moreso, a very meh Herzog film. This one totally threw me, as I wanted to like it, and lots of people seem to. I thought it was a bland, soulless bore.

    Don't declare me to be "way, way out", though. I find that kind of offensive. It's an opinion, and you should respect it as I shall yours. Yes, I, even to my own surprise, enjoyed Saw IV more - at least it was unpretentious and knew what it was doing.
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    The Kingdom (2007)

    Peter Berg’s latest directorial outing – The Kingdom – serves to, at least initially, teach us a history lesson, but it isn’t long before Berg’s “gritty” endeavour becomes one enmeshed in stagy histrionics and clichés. Whilst The Kingdom is a severely flawed film, its opening credits sequence is impressive, running down a very piecemeal shopping list of important political events of the last century that involved the Middle East (with a gutsy reference to the September 11th attacks).

    After Berg briefly introduces us to FBI Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx), a frankly clichéd character in his own right, the action transports to Saudi Arabia, where the majority of the picture takes place, thanks to a surprisingly brutal terrorist attack that transpires there. One of Fleury’s colleagues dies in the attack, and in the fallout of this incident, we meet his all-American team, consisting of Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, and Jason Bateman, who are, along with Fleury, soon enough sent to Saudi Arabia to investigate the attack and bring the perpetrators to justice. I must attest that I am easily distracted by minor, yet unassailably silly contrivances in a film’s narrative, and whilst the film’s initial meeting room scene is likely supposed to be one of marked tension, I simply found myself observing why, in a room of probably fifty FBI agents, only those in the room with a star credit actually said anything, whilst everyone else remained annoyingly silent. It’s unrealistic, and moreover, does it really require much cognition to throw a few lines of dialogue to some of the other schmoes sitting around the room?

    Such minor faults I can begrudge and move forward from, but The Kingdom’s true disappointment is in its restriction of actors who are, without doubt, certainly above material such as this. For example, Jason Bateman (who wowed us in the woefully-defunct Arrested Development) is never really given a chance to prove his acting chops, yet he serves as the comic relief. I had high hopes for Bateman in this film, but as can be said for most of the characters herein, the banter they are forced to partake in is redundant and as bland as some of the performances (see: Jennifer Garner), wholly unaided by the bubblegum script. The film is not without its gems, such as Six Feet Under’s excellent Richard Jenkins, yet his screen time is tragically limited.

    Even Entourage’s Jeremy Piven, who looks very much the part in this film, with his frosted hair and spectacles, was barely able to remain afloat. Piven, with his tenacious energy and cracking wit, would no doubt have served better as a crazed reporter (as opposed to a delegate for the U.S. Embassy), reminiscent of Dennis Hopper’s idiosyncratic turn in Apocalypse Now.

    The investigative element of The Kingdom failed to ever engage me – from Cooper’s character sifting through a muddy sludge for evidence, to Foxx exhibiting a strange culture clash with his Saudi counterpart. Moreover, the film’s action is incredibly sparse, only ever kicking into fifth gear in the final twenty minutes. The manner in which these scenes kick off is hardly inventive, and the film’s marketing largely spoiled the surprise, but the action is appropriately frenzied, as the remaining members of Fleury’s team race to rescue the one who has been kidnapped.

    The set pieces are by no means intelligent, but Berg has a keen eye for sharp imagery, and the carnage is indisputably well shot, even if Berg is insistent on showing us each explosion from at least three angles, and firing more bullets than would be expended in a first-person-shooter computer game.

    Even whilst I was unable to ignore the sheer absurdity of Garner’s fawn-like character (and she was almost certainly dropped into the film for tokenism purposes), what bothered me the most about The Kingdom is how it all ends. The film never attempts to be edgy or innovative – Berg appears very contented with his straight-forward rescue premise, and delivers with exactly, simply that. A semi-prime player is dead by the end of the film, but it was a predictable choice, and even while the film’s attempt at sentimentality in this respect is marginally successful, saccharine moments are also in high abundance. For instance, I literally dare you not to cringe as Garner’s character hands a lollipop to a Muslim girl.

    As much as the terrorists typically obscure their faces and shout “Allah” at near-enough every opportunity, the film does, in an albeit fairly foul-tasting manner, attempt to provide a positive representation of the Middle Eastern populace. What The Kingdom does is to remind us that, yes, even in this dingy, dust-bowl of a locale, Islam is not the enemy, and the final lines remind us of the insight that both sides believe their cause is the most benevolent, regardless of their methods. The real problem with the film’s message is that it isn’t subversive or refreshing in any fashion at all, and moreover, most educated people recognise these truths anyway.

    In crafting an aesthetically accomplished, yet soulless ordeal, Berg succeeds. The film has two largely effective moments, but otherwise, The Kingdom simply takes a spate of A-list actors, drops them into a lush, exotic locale with a high budget, and blows a lot of real estate up in sandbox-like fashion. The camerawork will divide audiences, either deeper immersing you in the story, or frustrating you with its jolts and shakes, but the film’s real facet of division lies in viewers who are willing to simply enjoy the fairly brainless drama, and those who are not. For the purposes of a by-the-numbers, tropical shoot-'em-up, this film succeeds, but to infer any greater degree of intelligence unto the picture, as Berg appears to attempt to, the effort stumbles.

    Rating: 5/10
 
 
 
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