REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Nolan's back to finish off his Bat trilogy, but does the threequel live up to its predecessors?

REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Spidey's back, with Marc Webb's controversial reboot finally swinging into cinemas. Can he justify it?

REVIEW: Rock of Ages (2012)

So, as it turns out, yes, Tom Cruise *can* sing. What more do you want?

REVIEW: Prometheus (2012)

Ridley Scott marks his return to sci-fi with this sort-of-an-Alien-prequel. But does it live up to the hype?

REVIEW: Casa de mi Padre (2012)

Yep. It's all in Spanish. And it's all batshit crazy.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows [Review]

Bang; boom; KABLAMO - Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows starts as it means to go on. It’s bigger; it’s louder - simply put, it’s the original film turned up to eleven.

That’s not to say this is in most respects a replication of 2009’s Sherlock Holmes. Far from it; while the continuity is, for the most part, there - the style, the cinematography, director Guy Ritchie’s trademark slow-motion - this is an entirely new film, though one that neither surpasses nor falls short of its predecessor.

The film’s new villain is Jared Harris, in the very unshadowy role of Professor Moriarty. Spending most of his time in broad daylight, meeting main man Holmes (Robert Downey Jr. reprising his lead role) on several occasions, Moriarty is thoroughly demystified by the film’s conclusion, though that doesn’t make him any less of a menace. He’s also Holmes’ opposite: where the detective is jittery, impulsive and sporadic, Moriarty is poised, calm and collected.

Moriarty’s dastardly plan sprouts from, unsurprisingly, finance: he attempts to instigate a world war in order to stimulate demand in cotton, guns and other goods - industries the professor has invested in heavily. It’s up to Sherlock to stop him, and once more he enlists the aid of faithful sidekick Dr Watson (Jude Law). Well, maybe enlist is too strong a word - suffice to say it involves an interrupted honeymoon and Watson’s new bride being pushed off a moving train (“DID YOU JUST KILL MY WIFE?”).

On that note, it’s fair to say the humour is still a distinct part of the once again genius script. Penned by Kieran and Michele Mulroney, the insanely logistical and clever screenplay infuses the trademark cocky humour of Downey Jr. that we’ve seen in his previous Holmes outing and recent Iron Man films. But it’s worth noting that things also get a bit darker here - particularly during one of Holmes’ and Moriarty’s skirmishes in Berlin that ends in the famed detective suspended by a meat hook. Not a pretty sight.

Mr Moriarty (Harris) has a less than civil meeting with Mr Holmes (Downey Jr.)

Ritchie’s direction will be familiar to anyone who’s seen his previous work; full of juxtaposed speed or lack thereof, his slow-motion is matched only by his frantic dashes with the camera. It’s all pulled off exquisitely, though, and still feels like a dig at Michael Bay - where the latter catapults everything at us full speed, Ritchie slows the key moments down to a pace where the audience can actually tell what’s going on.

These camera novelties are the Holmes reboot’s primary mechanic, it seems, and are used to much greater extent here than the original - again, it’s the first film turned up to the max. A scene towards the film’s climax displays how Moriarty is more than a match for Holmes, as both play out how a fistfight between them might occur in their minds’ eyes. Elsewhere the script runs anything but clockwork, ticking back and forth to explain previous scenes in flashbacks.

Here’s where I’d really like to say: ‘but it’s an exemplification of the script’s strength that it never jars’. But alas, at times, the flaws are evident. The frantic train scene backtracks more than once, and it’s too much. But the script is otherwise fairly tight, and while the plot won’t make one hundred per cent sense, it’s still enjoyable. And the riff on the title in the climactic game of wits is ingenious.

The film’s structure is good for the most part, even if it is just a collection of set-pieces across Europe, cobbled together in one big continental dash. Sadly, its climax is anything short of fulfilling the build-up, and even feels slightly underwhelming - though, as mentioned previously, its return to a more logical battle is still welcome.

Also welcome is the film’s evident self-mockery - in response to comments on the first film of the subtle homo-eroticism between Law and Downey Jr., A Game of Shadows embraces its protagonists’ bromance to the point where one of them dons full drag as they huddle on the floor of a train compartment.

It’s not all fun and games, though - the supporting characters are all a bit disappointing; a pineapple would have been more convincing than Stephen Fry as Holmes’ brother Mycroft, while female lead Noomi Rapace seems nothing more than an empty plot device. Rachel McAdams returns as Holmes’ female equal, but she’s woefully under-used.

While the parts that make up A Game of Shadows might be inherently similar to those of the original Sherlock Holmes romp, the sum of its parts is a different beast altogether - more action; more locations; more everything. It has its fair share of flaws, but it’s still an enjoyable whirlwind ride across Europe, that’ll keep you hooked right ‘till the very last costume from the classic Master of Disguise.

See also: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Dir: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Rachel McAdams
Warner. Bros Pictures, 129 mins, 16/12/11

Synopsis: A year has passed since the original Sherlock Holmes outing, and Robert Downey Jr.'s erratic detective has one last case (as always). Professor Moriarty is on the scene, and danger isn't far behind...

New trailer for The Dark Knight Rises

"There's a storm coming, Mr Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, 'cause when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large, and leave so little for the rest of us..."

The words of Selina Kyle, played by Anne Hathaway in Christopher Nolan's third and final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, due to hit cinemas in 2012. A film that's so highly anticipated by both this critic and pretty much every other fan of movies, there isn't much need for anything else to come out next year. And now there's a new trailer for it (see above).

We're introduced to Miss Kyle (aka Catwoman) for the first time, however briefly, and catch our first glimpses of Batman vs. Bane. Glimpses which only ratify the rumours doing the rounds on the web - will Nolan kill Batman? We see Bane looking down at a bloody Christian Bale, unmasked and seemingly defeated, before the baddie, played by Tom Hardy, growls:

"When Gotham is ashes... you have my permission to die."

We also see a fairly epic scene whereby Bane seemingly causes a football field to cave in, taking most of the players with it.

Two things to take from this - one; Bane is one seriously badass mofo. Two; Bane knows Batman's real identity. Which will obviously cause problems for the newly resurfaced caped crusader. It would be an amazingly huge risk for Nolan to kill off his Dark Knight, but if anyone can pull it off, it's him. Personally, I wouldn't complain too much. I like filmmakers who take risks.

My only experience of Bane is what I've seen in the excruciating watch that is Batman and Robin, where he was a braindead brute, only to be used for strength. Now he's Nolan's primary antagonist, so he'll need to do a bit better than that. The question is; will he? Well, watch the trailer and see for yourself...

The Dark Knight Rises is released on 20th July 2012.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

2011 Review Round-Up: Part 1

Looking back over 2011, there's a fair few films I've seen but never got round to reviewing. So, hey presto, here follows a paragraph-review for each, starting with the first ten. Scores are numerical but act as a star rating. Enjoy!

127 Hours 

Another masterpiece by Danny Boyle, who successfully pulls off 94 minutes of film where the main antagonist is… a boulder. Tells the true story of Aaron Ralston, who gets trapped in a canyon. A soundtrack to inspire the coldest of hearts on the blackest of days, and a story to match. James Franco gives the performance of a career.


The King’s Speech

Slow burning but brighter for it. Geoffrey Rush pirates around the decks while… no, hang on, that’s a different film. Beautifully British, and oh so 1930s/40s, a film about a speech impediment somehow ticks almost all the boxes. Cinema sure has been surprising this year…


It’s no Hot Fuzz, and seems to have never heard of Shaun of the Dead, but Pegg/Frost/Wright’s third film together isn’t part of the Cornetto/Ice Cream Trilogy anyway apparently. So, that aside, it’s an alright ride. Not exactly laugh-a-minute, and drags at the start - where’s the chemistry? The joke that the pair are on their honeymoon might as well be true - but still enjoyable.

The Adjustment Bureau 

Romantic sci-fi. Is there any better genre? Well, yes, but The Adjustment Bureau doesn’t care. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are on fire, and it’s a stylish, thrilling blaze as they burn across New York. Ambiguous themes culminate in an ambiguous ending, and it’s not one you’re likely to watch more than once (twice at a stretch) but you’ll have a whale of a time the first run through.

Source Code 

Groundhog Day meets The Hurt Locker, and Jake ‘I-can’t-quite-tell-if-he’s-good-or-not’ Gyllenhaal revels in it. Confusing to no end, with a pretty big plot hole dangling in the centre, but manages to keep you engaged even by the fifth or sixth time Gyllenhaal, um, blows up. Sure to spark moral debate among those so inclined to give a damn.


One of Marvel’s better superhero flicks, though completely unexpectedly. Tom Hiddleston steals it as Loki, Thor’s younger sibling, and like most Marvel films, it’s enjoyable without really doing much else. In fact, with the exception of maybe the Spider-Man trilogy, which is all over the place, I could probably just give every Marvel film four stars and be done with it. Oh, but not The Avengers next year. Which looks terrible.

The Hangover: Part II 

Part two, two stars. See what I did there? Basically, watch the first one again with Bangkok-vision turned on and you’ve got the same thing. Every last plot detail is practically exactly the same. Someone, anyone; please tell me - WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS FILM?

X-Men: First Class 

Look! Marvel! Four stars! Didn’t see that one coming! Bests the rest of the X-Men films, which have dated badly, but even at their release none were quite as good as this. Blatantly ignores continuity and the script isn’t water-tight, so it loses a star for that. And the incessant need to cram in every other character from the original trilogy. Fassbender and McAvoy are exquisite though, as a young Magneto/Xavier (respectively), in this stylish prequel.

Super 8 

Sure, it’s overly nostalgic, and sure, it’s a bit wound up in throwing out homages left, right and centre, but it’s also one hell of a film. The sum of its parts, and what fantastic parts those are: superb acting, child and adult alike; wonderful cinematography and direction; a water-tight and engaging plot - Super 8 oozes charm and nostalgia itself. A must-see.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes 

Despite its silly title, this is the other of Part 1’s must-see films. Powerful, raw and engaging, it’s James Franco again, playing off Andy Serkis doing what he does best: being an animal. And believe me when I say; this film is a beast. My top pick of this list, you’d be a monkey to miss it (puns all completely intended).

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol [Preview]

Last week I managed to catch a preview screening of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, where 30 minutes of footage was showcased on the biggest IMAX screen in the country.

And it was every bit as bombastic as one would expect from a Mission: Impossible film. The first sequence depicted leading man Tom Cruise, as disavowed agent Ethan Hunt, attempting to scale the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world, located in Dubai. This bit is shot with IMAX cameras, and it’s predictably vertigo-inducing – but all the while breathtaking and thrilling.

Indeed, the first film shot with IMAX cameras since The Dark Knight (2008), Ghost Protocol uses the technology only to its advantage – wide, panning shots that often veer to a vertical angle offer a real sense of dread and height in sequences such as the tower climb. From there the footage moved on to a sandstorm chase; again, every bit as thrilling, though here director Brad Bird’s cameras felt a little too frantic – reminiscent in ways of Michael Bay’s staple ‘technique’ (I use the term loosely).

The film’s plot is not dissimilar to that of the original Mission: Impossible – the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) team is forced to disband after a bombing in Moscow is blamed on Hunt. However, Cruise’s 4 man team are allowed to escape, in order to pursue the true bombers under the radar. And Cruise is definitely back on form here after the debacle that was Knight and Day (2010), though it’s the genius pairing of Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner who steal the show, providing both humour and conviction.

Other sequences shown were from the earlier in the film, when said escape of Hunt’s team occurs. It’s all standard action-thriller fare at this point – though doesn’t take itself too seriously, with Renner (who’s rumoured to be taking over from Cruise in future instalments) even questioning how Cruise’s tactics could possibly have worked; thus simultaneously addressing and dismissing both a clichéd escape and a damning plot hole. Sure, it might be considered a lazy get-out clause for the writers, but it’s also humourous and a cynical nod to our weariness of such tiresome plot devices.

Otherwise the script is fairly tight; Pegg’s role as the techy follows on from his role in Star Trek (2009) aptly, and his dialogue is no less suitable. Pegg’s comic timing adds an extra depth to the proceedings; not so much that Ghost Protocol becomes farcical – it is, first and foremost, an action movie – but just enough to balance the light-hearted side of things.

This is Brad Bird’s first live-action outing, after a series of animated efforts that included Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007), and it’s shaping up to be very promising. Four-quels might have been getting a bit of a bad rap lately – see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) or Die Hard 4.0 (2007) for examples – but Ghost Protocol looks set to turn that around.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is directed by Brad Bird and stars Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg. It arrives in cinemas 26th December 2011. You can find the trailer below:

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Assassin's Creed III confirmed in all but title

As you can probably tell from past articles, I've taken a bit of a shine to the Assassin's Creed series. In fact, it's probably one of my favourite series of all time. And even though next week's release, Revelations, promises to tie up the story of pretty much every character we've seen so far, developers Ubisoft haven't quite done with the franchise just yet (don't look so surprised).

CEO Yves Guillemot announced during a recent financial earnings call that a new game will be released in 2012 - the fourth in as many years, starting with Assassin's Creed II in 2009 - promising "another great full-fledged Assassin's Creed title next year".

And it looks like this might finally be the next numerical instalment fans have been hoping for (yes, me). Guillemot released no further details, but promised: "It will be another major release and we will be communicating more about it in the coming months."

With Altair, Ezio and Desmond's 'cycles' concluding in Revelations (though surely cycles do not conclude, but simply start over?), the path looks clear for new protagonists, locations and stories to embrace the stunning world of Assassin's Creed.

And to echo a statement in my Revelations preview: here's hoping for something along the lines of Victorian England.

Source: thesixthaxis

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Thing [Review]

Far be it from me to presuppose the outcome of this horror prequel to the 1982 classic of the same name, but… I did. Much too easily can the audience predict every single twist and turn The Thing catapults at them, long before it has chance to fire. Such is the problem with psychological horror; of course, the premise is interesting – no one can be trusted, anyone could be an enemy – but in many cases it comes at the expense of the basic horror elements.

The Thing takes place, predictably, in a remote location – this time somewhere in Antarctica, where a Norwegian team have stumbled upon a crashed alien spacecraft, and seemingly the corpse of an alien creature. After retrieving the creature from the ice, it becomes clear that it is still alive, and has the ability to imitate members of the crew – thus removing any trust the characters might hold.

This is where the psychological element comes in, and it certainly provides intriguing subject matter. It’s just a shame that The Thing gives so much exposure to its titular antagonist so early on in the film – we’re shown a brightly lit long shot of the creature just fifteen minutes in – because in doing so any tension or dread is removed.

To this end any sense of shock (or indeed horror) is dispensed with, and in a horror film that’s quite a fatal flaw. It’s lucky for The Thing, then, that it carries more generic, non-genre specific elements that work to its advantage. For instance, the acting standard is commendable; something rarely seen in horror. Led by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Die Hard 4, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World), who plays palaeontologist Kate Lloyd, the cast are believable enough to demand the audience’s attention with little effort.

Winstead is the standout; logical, thorough and down-to-Earth, Kate beguiles her way into the leader role without ever feeling thrust there. She’s an unlikely hero, but a competent and convincing one nonetheless – a refreshing change from the usual slap dash mechanics of traditional horror films, whereupon a lead would either be facetious or infallible to extreme lengths.

Instead, Winstead makes her character believable; a standout casting choice amongst a crowd of competence, which also includes Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen and Jonathan Lloyd Walker. Not one of these is any less deserving than another for commendation, unless to Winstead; indeed, the basic principle of the film – each character must convince the rest he or she is not the monster – alludes finely to the convincing nature of each actor.

But while The Thing might be able to boast an amalgam of acting abilities, its predictable nature means it suffers at the one thing it must achieve: at the most basic level, horrifying or otherwise scaring its audience (acting, after all, as a horror film). This it does not do. While the human cast might be convincing, the special effects are not, and leave much to be desired.

And indeed, much the same can be said of this prequel as a whole. Simply a rewarding ego-boost for those who like to work out films as they watch them, The Thing satisfies in very few respects; its production values may be high (special effects aside) and its acting commendable, but its predictability and in-your-face nature curtail any notions of horror or dread director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. may have wished to convey.


See also: The Thing (1982)

Dir: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen
Universal Pictures, 103 mins, 02/12/11

Synopsis: In 1982, a team of Norwegian scientists discover an alien lifeform buried deep in an icy grave in Antarctica. They enlist the help of a palaeontologist, Kate (Winstead), to help them extract the creature, but realise too late that it is still alive. Thus begins a deadly game of cat and mouse, as everyone is suspect and nobody can be trusted...

(For The Hollywood News:

Saturday, 22 October 2011

We Need to Talk About Kevin [Review]

Lionel Shriver herself has called this adaptation of her 2003 novel We Need to Talk About Kevin ‘terrific’. Fans of the book should need no more justification nor persuasion than that to head out right now and watch the film. Newcomers to the twisted tale of the teenager gone so horribly wrong; to the cereal-and-videogame nuclear family, blasted apart by the devastating effects of the actions of one cynical psychopath, should read on.

The teenager in question? Kevin Khatchadourian (Ezra Miller), the fifteen year old so disillusioned with the world that he feels the need to exact a brutal revenge upon it and its inhabitants. But Kevin’s actions are not nearly the primary focus of the film, though still the most deplorable and shocking; instead, they act as simply the backdrop, while the emphasis lies with mother Eva (Tilda Swinton), and her struggle to deal with the consequences of her offspring over an eighteen year period - a period which director Lynne Ramsay showcases through five distinct stages.

Before Kevin is born, we see Eva happier than we ever witness her again; jovial and full of life with husband Franklin (John C. Reilly). During the pregnancy we see Eva’s own psyche deteriorate as she becomes depressed at yoga classes - and Kevin’s infancy only proves testament to his actions in later life. It is the nature, or nurture, by which Kevin brings himself to commit such atrocities that form the principal themes of the next two periods: as a young boy, played by a forever unsettling Jasper Newell, and as a teenager in the form of Miller. The final time period Ramsay focuses on is the primary one; the aftermath of Kevin’s deeds and the consequences of them on Eva’s life. The intricate web that Ramsay weaves around these five stages can be jarring at times, particularly during the opening scenes, but while the narrative may take some initial decoding, the stop-start, reflective nature of it works to great effect.

Much of this is done through the tense construction of suspense, as we are greeted with images of the fateful event just moments into the film - and so the film becomes a question not of what, but of how, and why. It is here that Ramsay excels in her representations of Shriver’s characters, in exemplifying all their flaws and strengths into unravelling the cause-or-effect argument that is Kevin himself. As the film builds slowly to a final climax of the nature of Kevin’s actions, foreshadowed by a darker, downwards spiral of events, we are given some evidence as to the reason for his detrimental view on society. But, much like the film’s scattered structure, this is never clear - but for good reason.

For Ramsay enjoys her craft, and enjoys her control over her audience still more - juxtaposing her arguments for Kevin’s twisted psychosis in striking, nurtured parallels, but also in opaque natures, the film serves little on a plate; this is a meal you have to sink your teeth into to digest fully. The common belief in the townsfolk is that of the nurture argument; Eva finds herself the most despised mother in all of America, attacked in the street and the victim of constant vandalism. This is contrasted through the lifelong feud between mother and son; an embedded, almost natural hatred between the pair that Eva so desperately tries to overcome, but for her son’s bitter, cynical outlook on life. From the off, Kevin cries and cries and cries, and Eva almost punishes him (or else attempts to drown him out) by parking herself next to a pneumatic drill. But Kevin lies silent when dad Franklin carries him - perhaps reflecting a natural instinct to cause his mother hell.

Yet still Eva’s cynical, monstrous offspring is increasingly propagated throughout the film as a product of his mother’s upbringing; the visual parallels they strike - take the extreme close ups on mother and son’s mouth as each pulls either fragmented egg shells or broken fingernails from their lips - seem to reflect the disparaging nature by which Eva fails to correctly raise her disobedient son. Franklin remains oblivious to any of this, as one parent always seems to in such situations, and so Eva is left to psychological ruin at the hands of her own child. It’s a startling treatise for parents, soon-to-be or otherwise, that may just cause its audience to rethink their own stance on the subject.

But not only does Ramsay enjoy tormenting her audience, dangling threads to questions she refuses to answer, she also clearly revels in the opportunity to splatter the silver screen with Shriver’s words. Bloody and stained, the direction is blemished with all manner of reds - paints; lights; even fruit in a blatantly foreshadowing (yet slowly chilling) opening scene which sees Eva before Kevin’s birth. Perhaps the most poignant and striking aspect of Kevin is indeed Ramsay’s exquisite imagery; splattered crimsons douse the melancholy milieus across all five time periods the audience are tasked with piecing together. Such is the emphasis on the colour connoted so frequently with danger that even Kevin’s wardrobe choices are resplendently fitting, in the form of a royal red jacket he sports so convincingly.

Oh yes, the cast are indeed convincing. Ezra Miller ensnares and terrifies; cold, calculating and cynical, he almost manages to make the audience empathise with Kevin’s mindset in some ways - his deconstruction of the smallest of human interactions during dinner with his mother is startlingly awakening, and his belief that his parents want to divorce due to him is instantly relatable to anyone who might have been there at some point in their life. John C. Reilly offers a stark contrast to Eva; the parent whom Kevin seems to bond with effortlessly, but also the parent who is unquestioningly unaware of Kevin’s psychotic degeneration.

But it is neither of these faces which so blemish the posters, billboards nor indeed the screens of Kevin - it is Eva herself, stunningly portrayed by an actress full of contradictions, Tilda Swinton. Fragile yet determined; graceful and effortless yet distinct and emotionally powerful; Swinton delivers on all fronts and takes the limelight as the woman whose entire world crumbles at the hands of a brutal, victimising son. And yet the closing scenes of Kevin leave further mystery as to her decisions towards the soul who has unfathomably ruined her existence; Ramsay gives no answers, but shrouds us in an emotional enigma that requires more deciphering than even the convoluted timeframe she flits between with such enjoyment. But then, to fully deconstruct the psyche of a mind such as Kevin’s would ultimately be unworthy in the two lines he is allowed to explain himself, and criticism here may well be undue.

So do we need to talk about Kevin? Lynne Ramsay certainly gives us plenty of conversation. Her thought-provoking, haunting and ultimately shocking horror lies more within the realms of the psychological thriller, but still provides a chilling reprise of a family so torn apart by cynicism and twisted mentality - and only further brings into light the question of nature vs. nurture. Kevin is a worrisome watch for mothers-to-be and a shocking insight for the rest of us, and one that will stay with us long after the credits roll.


See also: Beautiful Boy (2011)

Dir: Lynne Ramsay
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly
BBC Films, 112 mins, 21/10/11

Synopsis: Mother Eva (Swinton) reflects on the breakdown of her relationship with both her son (Miller) and husband (Reilly), and the climactic events that tore apart her life in suburban New York...

Friday, 21 October 2011

Johnny English: Reborn [Review]

The original Rowan Atkinson spoof-spy caper Johnny English (2003) lay under no false pretexts; born simply as slapstick, cringing comedy of the best kind, Atkinson’s bumbling spook was a character I was always particularly fond of. The film was panned by critics, dismissed as ‘cheesy, brainless and puerile’, but I felt it carried a certain charm. In any case, its reception at the box office warranted a sequel, albeit some eight years later, and so we arrive at Johnny English Reborn.

Atkinson's second outing spoofing all things 007 sees the exiled protagonist return from Tibet, where we are told he was sent after a disastrous mission in Mozambique, in order to find a mole within British intelligence service MI7. It's a plot as clichéd and generic as they come, but the focus in parodies such as this isn't on the story. The advantage Reborn has over other supposedly satirical or spoof films is that it doesn't take itself too seriously - which, when combined with a fundamentally British cast, helmed by the legendary Atkinson, lays waste to other flicks of the genre (here's looking at you, Meet the Spartans (2008)).

One phrase in particular can be applied to this eventual second instalment: more of the same. If, like the majority of film critics, you were disaffected by or indifferent to the original Johnny English film, it is very unlikely that the series’ rebirth will win you over. The same repertoire of jokes; the same ineptly narcissistic ‘heroics’; the same blend of subtlety and exaggeration - all await you in what is essentially the original Johnny English with new faces and an alternative (but similarly generic) plot.
Take, for instance, the case of mistaken identity; a staple of the first film, Atkinson’s misdeeds often came about as a result of following the wrong suspect (or, as was the case in one of the original film’s highlights, following the wrong hearse). Such is Reborn - one of the recurring jokes revolves around a Chinese assassin, disguised as a maid, whom English mistakes for all manner of innocent characters to amusing effect.

But while the style might not have evolved, there are a few satirical sequences that show the progression of the character and indeed of the franchise. For instance, a hilariously inane scene sees English using lifts, staircases, girders and all manner of normal means of getting about to thwart a free-running assassin, in a subtle parody of Casino Royale’s (2006) opening scenes.

There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking here, and you’re unlikely to be swayed if you didn’t enjoy the original’s coarse humour, but for fans of the 2003 caper it’s worth a watch. Its humour is nowhere near as forced as its American spoof siblings, and so Johnny English Reborn ends up a light-hearted and enjoyable comedy. Of course, it's anything but ambitious, instead resting comfortably on the laurels of its predecessor. But it’s still a jolly good show, old boy.


See also: Johnny English (2003)

Dir: Oliver Parker
Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Rosamund Pike, Dominic West
Universal Pictures, 101 mins, 07/10/11

Synopsis: The unlikeliest spy in all of England returns after an eight-year stint off the grid, still knowing no fear, no danger... and indeed, knowing nothing. But when MI7 learns of an attempt on the Chinese premier's life, it's up to Johnny English to save the day...

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Drive [Review]

If you’ve ever played the PlayStation classic Driver, then the opening sequence of Drive should look inherently familiar. It’s a car chase the way car chases should be done; it’s not over the top, it’s exquisitely directed, and carries the cool, collected ambience of John Tanner’s effortless vigilantism. It’s an exceptional introduction to an exceptional film; one that oozes style and charm whilst blending an amalgam of genre conventions into what can only be termed an ‘arthouse blockbuster’.

Following the story of a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway vehicle for local crooks, Drive immediately introduces its protagonist’s proficiency behind the wheel through a precise and skilful chase sequence - one that sees the unnamed Driver (Ryan Gosling) help a pair of burglars escape a helicopter pursuit. It’s an effective introduction, and immediately sets the tone of the film through the distinguished camerawork - Gosling enjoys plenty of low angles to establish his control of the situation - and beautifully executed lighting, in the neon nightscapes of Los Angeles.

Such landscapes, emphasised through the scenic panning shots of the opening titles, indicate a neo-noir vibe to Drive that’s mixed to great effect with an ensemble of other genre conventions. At times it drifts towards something of a 70s slant, reminiscent of the Scorsese great Taxi Driver (1976), whilst the hot pink, cursive titles and lavish use of gore suggest something of a Tarantino-esque grindhouse format. Whilst these features are not so unique when each is presented alone, the mesh of all leads to something quite untypical - so it’s with great credit to director Nicolas Refn that it’s executed so beautifully.

Bursting with symbolic flair, Refn’s vision is unique; it’s a slower-paced effort, but one that manages to capture its audience with gracious ease. Unlike recent crime thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the slow, methodical storyboarding here works to great effect, absorbing the audience into the melancholy mind of The Driver, as his true persona is laid bare.

In many ways, however, Drive is deceptive; not least in its titular form - at just four points in the film does Gosling sit behind the wheel for any extended period of time. Indeed, following the opening sequence, Drive takes rather more of a romantic turn, through the introduction of neighbour Irene and her son Benicio in our protagonist’s life. Thus follows a sepia-doused montage of Gosling seemingly playing the natural doting father to Benicio, whose own paternal influence lies incarcerated for an unknown crime. While seemingly out of place in terms of what we’re shown beforehand, these nostalgic and uplifting moments give Drive a well-placed injection of heart and soul.

But of course, as must inevitably happen, Benicio’s father, Standard (even Irene asks at one point, “where’s the deluxe version?”), shows up again - released from prison, and carrying baggage, in the form of a hefty debt of protection money. It’s not long before Irene and Benicio are threatened, and so in steps The Driver to help. Matters become awry after a fatal pawn shop robbery, and soon we’re knee deep in a web of treachery, lies and deceit. It’s not exactly ground-breaking stuff, but it’s often enough unpredictable that it’s suitable for purpose. Sadly, the finale bows to storytelling convention maybe a little too heavily, but such a slight flaw can easily be overlooked for all that’s come before it.

Gosling himself is superb; forever emblazoned with that unique vacant determinism, his character is just as absorbing as the film. He’s a modern day Travis Bickle in many ways, if slightly more ambitious behind the wheel. Just like Travis, the unnamed Driver’s character has flaws; he is effortlessly awkward, and yet carries a certain charm and nervous smile that so brilliantly mask his psychopathic tendencies that the Driver’s acts of violence feel as though they are a twist in and as of themselves. The character’s wild extremes suggest something of a hyper reality about him; the representation of each of us, of our highs and our lows, drawn out and plastered onto a screen, in the form of this beautifully menacing, reserved and yet likeable Driver.

It’s a stunning but shattering lecture in storytelling from Refn; his characters all with an impetus to an end that so define their status. Carey Mulligan delights as the soft-spoken, kind-hearted and motherly Irene; again, a character with flaws - just look at her choice of husband - but one who you can’t help but sympathise for. Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman lie opposite our convoluted heroes, both excelling in their twisted nature; Perlman the self-serving, belligerent mobster, and Brooks the coldly apologetic investor. At times one might even sympathise for Brooks’ actions, though as the film progresses and his true character is revealed, it is not sympathy Refn draws on; merely a sheer contempt for his deeds. The role reversal is implemented perfectly, in stellar efforts from both screenwriter Hossein Amini and Brooks himself.

A unique, beautiful vision, executed with a suitably twisted grace, Drive is methodical, yet for the most part unpredictable - a stirring achievement from director Refn. Definitely one of the greats of the 21st Century - improbable sequel pending, you won’t see another film like it.


See also: Taxi Driver (1976)

Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac
Bold Films, 100 mins, 23/09/11

Synopsis: Los Angeles, Hollywood - a stuntman-cum-getaway driver becomes embroiled in the sleazy world of debt, embezzlement, theft and mafia wars, as a heist gone wrong results in a contract on his own head.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Assassin's Creed: Revelations [Preview]

The Ubisoft developer’s conference which took place on Saturday, September 25th 2011 at Earl’s Court was, to say the least, an inspiring one. Showcasing the next instalment in the Assassin’s Creed series, subtitled Revelations, Ubi developers Brent Ashe and Raphael Lacoste teased an early gameplay sequence whilst also introducing us to the core themes of the game.

This is Ezio Auditore’s pièce de résistance; a closing chapter on the protagonist we’ve spent the past two instalments dealing with. But Revelations also brings back old flame Altair, star of the series’ inception into videogame lore, in a subtle yet ingenious move by Ubisoft. By involving two alternate characters, two highly contrasting milieus are afforded to the player, with exceptional results. It’s a lot more work for Ubisoft’s art directors, but it’s certainly rewarding.

Ezio’s older now - “he’s wiser and more focused,” said Ashe of the returning assassin. “He’s a lot more like Altair now; he never wanted to be an assassin, but now he is and he’s a lot more focused and driven than we saw in the past two games.” Put simply, Ezio’s grown up. And this is, according to Lacoste, partly down to his extensive travels over the years between previous instalment Brotherhood and November’s Revelations - from clothing items he’s collected to more personal changes.

Yes, apparently Ezio’s been on a bit of a soul-searching journey. “He’s been travelling, but it’s not just been a physical journey, it’s also been on a personal level.” Ashe states, suggesting Ezio’s newfound maturity is down to a more enlightened level of thinking. “He’s been looking inside himself and looking back over his life and how it turned out like that.” So Ezio’s back, but it’s not the Ezio we once knew.

To touch upon the gameplay element for a moment; one striking moment during a battle between Ezio and Templar agents sees a ghostly shadow of Altair appear in the foreground, turning and walking away. This connection between the two ancestors of present-day protagonist Desmond is the central theme of Revelations; the game’s story, as per the title, will offer some narrative closure to players after three chapters of mystery and codes, tying up Ezio and Altair’s respective stories. Here’s hoping a full-blown sequel, with new settings and characters, is lined up for 2012/3.

Of course, it’s not just all ‘this happened because of this, these guys are actually the good guys,’ and whatnot. Ezio’s journey might once have been spiritual, but now it’s firmly back in the physical. The game opens in Masyaf, setting of the first Creed game, now doused in whites and greys and blemished with a wintry sleet. Ezio’s looking for a library left behind by Altair; the latter’s legacy, built underneath a fortress high in the mountain reaches. But he finds the place swarming with Templars, and so begins a ferocious battle which sees Ezio felled and captured.

After a narrow escape, we see the aged Italian fleeing in a carriage, pursued in force by Templar agents. Ashe promises the entire sequence will be playable in the final game, but for now it’s a rather lovely cinematic. The lighting and textures have also improved since last year’s Brotherhood, and it’s quite noticeable. Lacoste’s artistic team have developed a huge new sandbox to play in across the Ottoman Empire, from Masyaf to Constantinople, where Revelations eventually takes our vigilante hero.

Ubisoft have also integrated a range of new gameplay mechanics, from a ‘hook blade’ tool that blends combat and navigation - think zip-wires and aerial attacks - to an enhanced Eagle Vision that allows Ezio to see his target’s path. Also new to the Creed series is the ‘bomb factory’; a pouch Ezio carries that allows him to construct his own bombs from various ‘ingredients’ that can either be bought or found (often on corpses). For each bomb, three different factors are decided - type of shell, gunpowder and effect - to assign the weapon into one of three categories; lethal, tactical or diversionary.

Take the Cherry Bomb - a classic diversionary tactic, it’s effectively a grenade thrown to act as a decoy. Of course, one might argue that Assassin’s Creed is straying ever closer to modern weaponry - from Ezio’s projectile firing wrist mechanism in ACII (i.e. his gun) to the grenades and landmines the bomb pouch offers - but the way it’s dressed in the time period, to such great effect, should still keep players completely immersed in the era.

A second spin-off for the Assassin’s Creed series might not be on the priority list for fans of the series, particularly re-using old characters, but its titular promise of answers to some pressing story questions, combined with a refreshing mix of new gameplay elements and beautiful locations, should give players enough to tide them over until the next full blown sequel. For which, by the way, I’d just like to throw out the suggestion of 19th Century Victorian England. Maybe with a brand new female assassin. Anyone?

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy [Review]

Premiering at the 68th Venice International Film Festival around two weeks prior to general release, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was greeted almost instantly with unanimous critical acclaim. Cries of sophistication, intelligence, and an astounding, absorbing experience were bandied around various film institutions; as of this writing, Tinker holds a 97% aggregate on Rotten Tomatoes after thirty five reviews. Just one of those has been negative, which only begs the question: why?

The film revolves around the British secret service in the 1970s; more specifically, the attempts of a forcibly retired spy, one George Smiley (Gary Oldman), to uncover a mole within the organisation, who has been feeding information to the Russians. Thus commences a twisted, vicious web of lies, deceit and corruption; with every other character a suspect, Smiley’s hunt for the perpetrator brings him into conflict with almost the entire supporting cast.

And what a stellar cast that is. Oldman is supported by everyone from John Hurt to Colin Firth in an absolutely outstanding A-List set of actors; a line-up complemented superbly by up-and-coming stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy (the latter you may recognise from last year’s Inception and in next year’s Batman flick, The Dark Knight Rises). The performances are all immeasurably British, and really help to capture the feel of Cold-War era England.

Such an atmosphere is furthered still by Alfredson’s stellar direction. Tinker carries style by the barrelful, with murky greys, greens and browns dousing the rain-filled milieu; in essence, it’s everything a typical Brit might imagine when conjuring up images of their homeland. And it only serves to reflect the ambience of the film in general; in a world where no one can be trusted, full of lies and misery, the mise-en-scene of Alfredson’s efforts is a directorial marvel.

It’s a huge shame, then, that Tinker’s strengths end here.

Indeed, what’s clear from Alfredson’s interpretation is that Tinker Tailor was originally adapted as a seven part television series for a reason. All credit to John Le Carré for such an intricately woven web of a tale, but the means to an end that Tinker relies on for its sucker punch are woefully underplayed in Peter Straughan’s subpar script. Should you manage to follow its elaborate, jarring storyboard to the last detail, and correctly assume the identity of the mole, there’s little chance you’ll care. Tinker tries to be complex and ends up convoluted.

Much of this is down to Alfredson failing to allow the plot to develop at a natural pace; much of the film’s opening scenes belong solely to Smiley, yet instead of exposition to the story we’re given montages of his character. This of course allows for development of the protagonist, personifying the film to such an end, but where a plot as complex as that of Le Carré’s is concerned, crammed into a meagre 127 minute screenplay, it might be assumed that more focus should be given on expanding the story. Character development is intrinsic, yes, but Alfredson captures it throughout the film anyway. The slow starting pace of a rushed plot hinders Tinker; indeed, it is precisely this which gives it such a convoluted feel.

In Alfredson’s desire to illuminate such an intelligent plot in little over two hours’ runtime, he manages to almost completely alienate the audience, providing little to engage with. Multiple narrative threads dangle loosely as the credits roll, helped in no manner by yet another montage that seemingly wishes to only give every character, no matter how minor, another couple of seconds of screentime, offering few tied knots.

This hectic wish to complicate things further simply alienates the antagonists; too little exposure is given to the suspects and secondary characters, to the end that when the reveal happens, you’ll be left wondering why you wanted to know in the first place. Tinker boasts style, sophistication and a little substance, but ultimately ends up disengaging, unabsorbing and emotionally defunct.


See also: The Debt (2011)

Dir: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt
Studio Canal, 127 mins, 16/09/11

Synopsis: Intelligence has been discovered that suggests a mole in the British secret service. In comes George Smiley (Oldman), an ex-MI6 agent, who narrows down the search to four suspects...

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Final Destination 5 [Review]

The Final Destination series has never been a favourite of mine; indeed, I don’t recall ever having seen the first couple of instalments, instead being introduced through the third. While this threequel managed to allay my preconceptions about the series to an extent, the fourth [and, at the time, supposedly last] instalment, The Final Destination (2009), did far less disservice to such a bias. Now we’re back to the numerical film titles, with a brand new director, and still the Final Destination series slips steadily further into the dark abyss of forgettable cinema.

If you’re new to the series, fear not: the film’s tone is introduced almost immediately through a heavily stylised opening title sequence, which makes ample use of the 3D effects, catapulting plenty of tools of minor destruction at the audience in an attempt to see what sticks. This theme is true of most of the film; indeed, throughout the entire Final Destination series the writers appear to have been throwing things at a wall in such a manner as this analogy, purely in order to stretch further and further the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

What gave the previous films an ounce of credence, defying an often dire range of bland characters - played by an even more forgettable cast - and horribly gaping plot holes or otherwise suspicious plot devices, was the tension created through the often intriguing Rube Goldberg machines that might lead to a character’s untimely (or otherwise) death. The mechanisms were simultaneously nerve-racking yet fascinating, and served to give the Final Destination series a ‘unique selling point’. Final Destination 5 does away yet again with any kind of character development, sports a pitiful cast (replete with seemingly a poor man's Christian Bale in Miles Fisher), has a minimal plot with still too many insane devices, and has now also lost its USP.

Sure, the mechanisms are still there, but it’s clear that the filmmakers are starting to run out of ideas (or they’re just getting lazy). Take a fatality in a factory around the halfway point; a few sparks on a girder and a hook comes tumbling down to impale a union leader. The 3D makes everything a hell of a lot more gruesome, but it’s still nowhere near as complex as has been previously seen. And with the loss of such intricacies, it’s hard to see what the series still has going for it.

To the credit of rookie director Steven Quale and scriptwriter Eric Heisserer, attempts are made at forcing a plot. The recycled themes of premonitions and avoiding death are still present and correct, but now spiced up with a simple premise: kill another, and their ‘years’ on earth become yours. It’s an interesting idea that sparks some plot development towards the end of the film, but through a series of yet more plot holes is ultimately irrelevant.

It seems, then, that aside from some average 3D effects, Final Destination 5 really doesn’t have any strengths after all. And if you’re expecting a ‘nevertheless’, ‘but’, or ‘on the other hand’… well, there isn’t one. The Final Destination series is a ship of tired, lazy themes in a sea of mediocrity, soon to be swept into a whirlpool of forgotten cinematic history. Hopefully to rest for good this time.


See also: Final Destination (2000), The Final Destination (2009)

Dir: Steven Quale
Cast: Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher
New Line Cinema, 92 mins, 26/08/11

Synopsis: The fifth instalment of the Final Destination series, and this time a premonition of a collapsing bridge saves eight employees on a team building retreat from certain doom. But Death doesn't like to be cheated... 

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Star Wars Blu-ray edits confirmed by Lucasfilm

George has gone and done it again. After tinkering around with the original trilogy of Star Wars films for their DVD release in 2004 (where, yes, Greedo shot first), Lucasfilm confirmed today that rumours circling the web about further changes to the upcoming Blu-ray release are indeed true. And, much like the original edits with the first DVD releases, these are unlikely to be welcome.

I find myself dismayed at the majority - take the closing scenes of Return of the Jedi. The DVD special editions already had a young Hayden Christensen spliced in as Anakin Skywalker, yet now Lucas has decided to take the destruction of sci-fi's greatest villain one step further.

Following Vader's horribly dramatic "No!" at Revenge of the Sith's closing moments, in anguish at supposedly causing his wife's death, the director has now attached a further (though slightly less emotional) cry to the Dark Lord's redemption upon killing the Emperor. Check out the YouTube video here to witness this crime to cinema for yourself - one of the most powerful moments of the entire saga, as Vader silently observes his master and son, the latter dying by the former's hand, and makes his choice, has been almost destroyed.

There's another audio edit here, when Obi-Wan scares away some sandpeople with some freaky sounds. Though that might be a slight understatement now. It's stretching belief that a man of his age could make such a sound, even for a wise old Jedi.

There's a couple other heinous changes here and there (Ewoks now blink?), but the worst of the rest would probably fall to the replacement of puppet Yoda in Phantom Menace with dafter looking CGI Yoda (see above). That puppet was one of the last strands of continuity with the original films, from the days before CGI controlled the world (or at least Lucasfilm) - even in 1999. But no, even the little green man's been decimated now.

It's about time someone mutinied against George Lucas, and just said 'stop'. I did see one insightful tweet on the subject this morning, though I can't for the life of me remember who it was by (sorry!):

"...the more changes [Lucas] makes, the more I'm led to believe the original films happened by a bizarre accident."

Sums it up nicely, I think. At least give us the original, untouched versions in the special features, Lucasfilm. Or will you be charging extra for that, in a mega, ultra deluxe box set two years from now?

Photo (Yoda): Collider

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Cowboys and Aliens [Review]

If you watch any science-fiction film from the first half of the 20th Century, you’re most likely to find a world populated with small, green aliens, usually labelled ‘Martians’ (for serious want of a better name), maybe sporting an extra eye or ear or something. For the first generation of science-fiction films, this was the typical extra-terrestrial, exemplified perhaps in Looney TunesMarvin the Martian (okay, so maybe he wasn't green, but his helmet was!).

How times change. Nowadays, it seems the prerequisite for any alien is a gritty, dirt-tinted skin tone, a body larger than any man’s with arms longer than legs (and possibly multiple arms), and some kind of bulbous eyes. Cloverfield, Super 8 - modern monster movies now seem as uninspired in their character design as that constant barrage of little green men must have done sixty years ago. Cowboys and Aliens, it disappoints me to write, diverts little from this modern stereotype.

But a word of warning: while it will not surprise in character design, Cowboys and Aliens will certainly surprise in its tone and content. And, sadly, I don’t mean that in a positive way. Director Jon Favreau’s most recent works are the Iron Man films - action, action and more action, with a little bit of character. While the first was lauded as one of the greatest Marvel films to date, the second received far more negative reviews, and consequently Favreau has parted ways for the upcoming threequel. If Cowboys and Aliens is any indication (and Iron Man 2 certainly is), this can only be a good thing.

The premise is simple (or simply daft); a small village of homesteaders in 1873 Arizona find themselves under attack from alien craft, not long after a mysterious, unnamed stranger with an even stranger bracelet bequeaths himself upon them. That man is Daniel Craig - gritty, brutal and hard as nails in the finest performance the two hours runtime has to offer - as Jake Lonergan, outlaw and wanted criminal. Opposite him is Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde, one of Jake’s victims, played by a tired Harrison Ford. That’s not to say Ford’s acting is terrible; it’s just nowhere near on par with his past work, a theme that runs ever more apparent in his recent films.

During the aforementioned attack, however, several prominent townsfolk are abducted, and the posse band together - Dolarhyde and Lonergan shoulder-to-shoulder - to retrieve their captured brethren. In this way, the first half of Cowboys and Aliens plays out like a Western mystery film - following trails, flashbacks, etc. However, such use of flashbacks to explore Lonergan’s past seems out of place, even in such a mesh of genres as this. The visual effects during these piecemeal memories are an unwanted distraction, and show flaws in Favreau’s work.

The surprises of the film come in its nature: an inane concept, but one that is taken with far too much seriousness - Cowboys and Aliens is harsh, brutal and smeared in blood and sweat. Prisoners incinerated; children using knives to save the day; it’s not exactly laugh-a-minute stuff, and definitely not what you’d expect from the suggestive title.

Meanwhile, the film’s barely existent plot is more of an afterthought than anything else, and Ford’s remark to the excuse - sorry, reason - the aliens are attacking (for gold, apparently) speaks for itself: “that’s ridiculous. What are they gonna do with it? Buy things?” For the most part, the mismatch of genre styles seems like nothing more than an excuse for Favreau to have some men in Stetsons beat up CGI blobs. Similarly, loose morals are crammed in last minute, with cheesy, clichéd redemptions undercooked and unnecessary. In a film where knives are the shining beacon of justice, handed out by father of hope Colonel Dolarhyde, was it so crucial that all the elements that made the characters interesting be taken away, in favour of yet another happy ending (where everyone’s no doubt learnt their lesson; slap on the wrist and off you go)? I think not.

Cowboys and Aliens looked set to be one of the great blockbusters of summer 2011, but without even a hint of irony in its tone, coupled with a lacklustre plot, the film fails to live up to expectations. It’s not much fun, ridiculously hard-hitting, and there’s no point to it. All I can say for it is that the action sequences are at least mildly entertaining, helped by a lack of blurry 3D, and that it’s still, somehow, watchable. Maybe it’s the actually engaging ‘mystery’ trail across the desert in the film’s first half, or the too-few gags that appear every now and then, or the [barely] adequate cast. But even still, Cowboys and Aliens could have been so much better.


See also: War of the Worlds (2005), District 9 (2009)

Dir: Jon Favreau
Cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde
Universal Pictures, 119 mins, 17/08/11

Synopsis: A stranger with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. Soon, with the help of a strange mechanical wristband, he's helping lead the fight against swarms of alien spacecraft, all the while trying to piece together his past...

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Coming Soon: Eurogamer Expo 2011

So, this year I shall, for the second time in my life, be attending the Eurogamer Expo. The last time this happened was in 2009, when for one year, and one year only, the convention was brought to Leeds. Apparently, the North was rendered futile, as it hasn't returned since. Luckily, I'm moving down South in a month, just a week before the expo. Good timing, no?

Regardless, with the vast amounts of playable content there - including huge titles such as Batman: Arkham City, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception and Mario Kart 7 - I'll soon be creating a tab dedicated purely to the expo, where you'll be able to find previews on everything I can get my hands on during my eight hours there.

For now, I'll leave you with a link to what's on at the expo, and thus what you can expect to be reading about in just over a month.

Stay tuned.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Pixar announce 2 new projects

A convention at the weekend saw Pixar announce two new films, in addition to new footage and art from already announced Brave and Monsters University. Neither of the new announcements have titles yet, but the premise of each sounds equally intriguing.

First up, there's the untitled project arriving on November 27, 2013. All that's been said so far is that it's about dinosaurs. Or more specifically, what life might be like if "dinosaurs never went extinct." Some brief concept art was shown of a child riding a dinosaur's head, but nothing more was let slip by veteran Pixar director Bob Peterson.

The second, even further away (currently holding a May 2014 release date), will be helmed by Monsters Inc/Up director Pete Docter. This one was even more mysterious, simply described as a "comic look at how ideas come together and the inner workings of our brains." The Numskulls on screen?

Both projects sound exciting, but it's a fair while to wait. Pixar's films generally seem to hit us once a year, though a 2013 release date for the dinosaur-themed title might hopefully spark a bi-annual release schedule, with Monsters University arriving July 19th the same year.


The Devil's Double [Review]

Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq from 1979-2003, was widely condemned for the brutality of his dictatorship in an international sense; in particular, the events in Kuwait and the Gulf War in the early 1990s gave considerable wake to such cries. But this is a familiar tale to tell: much less is known of Saddam’s family and personal life. In comes The Devil’s Double, an exposé of the tyrannical ruler’s eldest and, for a time, favourite of his offspring, Uday.

I say ‘for a time’, because, as The Devil’s Double shows, Uday was not the sanest of men. Erratic, intolerant, feuding and paranoid, Saddam’s firstborn frequently fell out of favour with his father, and thus the backbone of the film’s plot: the life of Uday Hussein, and all the horrors in which it was entwined - and hence the titular label of ‘Devil’. The double is Latif Yahia, with both characters played by an exquisite Dominic Cooper - playing against himself, in two fundamentally oppositional roles, Cooper excels in convincing as both the reserved, moral Yahia and the deranged, childish Uday.

The film essentially tells Yahia’s story; handpicked and forced to become a ‘fiday’ (body double or political decoy) for Uday, Latif soon realises his doppelganger’s sadistic, power-hungry tendencies and seeks a way out. The tale is frantic, but never feels rushed.

Director Lee Tamahori’s most famous credit might perhaps be James Bond film Die Another Day (2002), though he might not wish it to be. One of the less well received Bond films, the last of Pierce Brosnan’s 007 outings was criticised for its lack of plot, relying instead on ‘gadgets and special effects’. For a director whose next film was the sequel to xXx, this might hardly be considered surprising. But The Devil’s Double is something of a coming-of-age film for the New Zealander: a more sensitive and hard-hitting subject, a more plot- and character-driven piece, and an altogether more removed picture from the brazen, loaded guns of Hollywood. Intense direction and cinematography - with an atmospheric and insightful depiction of early 90s Iraq - here combine to exemplify some of Tamahori’s best work.

The screenplay and scriptwriting show greater strengths still; the depiction of Uday as the childish persona that he never left behind - from his excitement at forcing two of his female ‘companions’ to kiss, to cowering in his chair when being reprimanded by his father - is remarkable, yet suitably apt, and at all times persevered with fine results. All that can be expressed for Uday is sheer loathing; while in such a sense being slightly one-dimensional - there’s no remorseful depth to the character - the representation helps to fortify the struggle of the story’s central character Latif.

If I were to fault The Devil’s Double, however, it would be on its over-reliance on shock imagery; while this might be considered necessary to expose the full terrors that Uday Hussein committed in his life, the filmmakers simply seem intent on topping each brutal act of criminality with a yet more horrific one moments later. The result is that by the credits we’re left so emotionally drained it’s difficult to appreciate just what we’re being shown - and oftentimes we’ll forget that the story is actually supposed to be focused on Yahia.

But, of course, what we are being shown is a real-life horror story; the murderous, victimising and bullying tirades of a man engrossed in his inner-child, a man so engaged within his own small world that he knows no social implications of his actions. At times, The Devil’s Double feels like it’s only concentrating on Satan himself, but what we’re really witnessing is the exposure of such horrors to not just our consciousness, but to the consciousness of the people Uday ruled - not least of which is the man forced to do his bidding, and in essence become him.

The Devil’s Double is a tale of turmoil in Iraq, and a harrowing one at that. Not for the faint-hearted, nor the faint-minded, but still a finely directed piece of cinema that does its job, if with a little too much vulgarity.


See also: Lord of War (2005) 

Dir: Lee Tamahori
Cast: Dominic Cooper, Philip Quast, Ludivine Sagnier
Corsan/Staccato Films, 109 mins, 10/08/11

Synopsis: Latif Yahia (Cooper) is forced to become a body double for Uday (also Cooper), son of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (Quast). In a world of corruption, lies and greed, who to trust becomes a matter of life and death for Latif, as he seeks a way out of his lifeless, immoral existence... 

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Some Films I Like

Here's some films I like! Yay me!
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1983) 

Iconic. That’s the only word fit to describe the first Star Wars sequel, directed by the late, great Irvin Kershner. Perhaps telling that Lucas had less involvement with this one that it’s considered the greatest, but regardless of that fact, Empire is without a doubt one of sci-fi’s greatest gamechangers. From the opening Imperial victory on the snowy battlegrounds of Hoth to that duel above Bespin, Empire was always remembered as the one where the bad guys win.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

So the dialogue is still terrible, the acting equally dire and the plot slightly contrived. Revenge of the Sith isn’t a great film by any such standards, but nevertheless it remains one of my favourite. It ties up the saga, slotting nicely between Attack of the Clones and A New Hope, and is bursting with some pretty damn good action scenes (including the intensely climactic Anakin vs. Obi-Wan duel; the longest of its time). To be honest, this one’s more of a childhood memory thing, but it’s still not as bad as The Phantom Menace.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) 

And of course, there had to be a Harry Potter film here somewhere. But which to choose? Certainly, Deathly Hallows would have been next; Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix wouldn’t be too low down on the list either. But Azkaban prevails purely for its rebooting of the series, from ditching the uniforms to werewolves and Sirius Black. Yes, this was the one where everything started getting darker, but it worked. The script was the best of the lot too, injecting a fine balance of humour and intensity. And, for once, the kids’ acting wasn’t that abysmal.

Cloverfield (2008) 

The first JJ Abrams-related film I saw was Cloverfield. Release day, I was there, eagerly awaiting the much-hyped handicam monster movie. My response? Well, let’s just say I went to see it again the day after. I couldn’t get enough - the style; the mystery; the frantic fright of the unknown leads as they struggled their way through a devastated New York. I could honestly watch this film day in, day out for weeks and never become bored with it. A risky masterpiece, Cloverfield is an acquired taste, but it’s one I’ll never grow sick of.

Public Enemies (2009) 

What I like about Johnny Depp is his ability to play such a varied range of characters (even if they are all slight variants of himself). From the nervous, secluded Edward Scissorhands to the eccentric swashbuckler Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, Depp never disappoints. The same is true here, where he plays iconic bank robber John Dillinger. Another stunner from Michael Mann, the cinematography and soundtrack in particular delight, and the climax is unforgettable. A modern great.

127 Hours (2011) 

A film that deserves one hundred and twenty seven stars, James Franco delivers the performance of his career in a superbly directed piece by Danny Boyle. Somehow it all works; it’s just one guy trapped in a canyon, but everything - even the dreaded amputation scene - slides together blissfully. Boyle manages to pull off a film where the main antagonist is a rock, so naturally, it's yet another modern masterpiece from the acclaimed director.

In hindsight, this list appears exceedingly mainstream. I think it’s high time I altered my viewing habits…

But nevertheless, I'd still give four or five stars to all of these. The only exception might be Revenge of the Sith; with my critical head on, it would probably only merit three. The nostalgia warrants its place here, but that's the problem with this list. It's films *I* like. People will inevitably disagree, because while a film might be a cherished memory, it might also be crap.

Though aside from a couple of love-it-hate-it entries (Cloverfield anyone?), the majority of this list has gained pretty favourable reviews.

Any thoughts?