Thursday, 29 October 2009

Halloween Special: Paranormal Activity & 9 - Reviews

Halloween is upon us once again, where the kids are out trick or treating, the antisocial are exploding illegally obtained fireworks and as sure as there being a huge boost in pumpkin sales: there is no doubt another shit sequel to another tired, worn out horror franchise circulating around the multiplexes. Thankfully this year I decided to steer clear of that whole affair and opt for a film that is actually scary.

It's a shame that UK audiences won't have a chance to witness this film over the Halloween weekend in the cinema. Despite sounding like a potential subtitle to a future Ghostbusters movie, Paranormal Activity is the recent 'big thing' to comes from the USA filmed in a similar vein to The Blair Witch Project. It tells the tale of a couple haunted by an unusual presence in their own home. The boyfriend Micah dismisses the bumps in the night and decides to document the footage to prove a point to his superstitious girlfriend Katie. As you can imagine events start to unfold and all is not what it seems.

In keeping with my own views on the supernatural, I approached this film with much scepticism. The first hour didn't help the film's case, coming across like an average episode of TV's Most Haunted. However, I must commend d├ębut director Oren Peli for creating such a well crafted story of agonising suspense from beginning to end. There is practically none, if any, special effects used, with the horror being entirely psychological with very little use of a backing soundtrack, very similar effectiveness to the 1963 version of The Haunting. From a story point of view it was interesting seeing the couple's relationship become increasingly more strained as the film's events developed building up to an extremely tense and shocking final few moments.

One of Paranormal Activity's stand out qualities is that it manages to create this atmosphere with virtually no blood/gore nor cheap jumpy shock tactics. Almost like Hitchcock in its execution. For a budget of $15,000 it was one of the most effective Indie films I have seen in quite some time.

Final Thoughts
Forget Saw 6 or Halloween 2, if you want a film that will genuinely disturb you over the coming season, Paranormal Activity is by far the essential option. 'Scariest film of all time' (as the poster suggests...) is a bit of a stretch but it's got a solid argument for the title of 'Most Disturbing Film of 2009' at the very least. Though the first 30 minutes are arguably quite slow moving the film is still unnerving, suspenseful and yes, I would say for a moment it was even quite scary. Paranormal Activity is a must for all fans of the horror genre. For desired effect, watch alone with all the lights turned out.


See this if you like...
The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, The Last Broadcast and Most Haunted (no seriously...).

Paranormal Activity hits UK cinemas 27th November 2009.

The film is also available on DVD through low level outlets on the web since it has been out since 2007.

The second film under the microscope this Halloween season, from theFILMblog, is yet another computer animated feature film in the form of 9 by director Shane Acker. Based on the Oscar nominated short of the same name, 9 is the tale of nine robotic puppets brought to life during an apocalyptic war between man and machine. Surviving the titanic clash it is up to them to preserve the essence of mankind now the human race is extinct.

Unlike the other animated films I have reviewed this month, 9 takes on a much darker tone to any animated film I have seen in quite some time, almost coming across as a spin-off plot to the Terminator series with some unsettling imagery of dead human bodies rotting within the post-apocalyptic landscape. Though only on the film in a producing capacity, Tim Burton's influence and presence on the feature is evident from beginning to end, especially in the character designs of the protagonists and antagonists. The demonic machines looking as if they were lifted straight from one of Burton's collaborations with Henry Selick.

One of the highlights of the film was the very creditable talents of the voice cast, featuring the likes of Elijah Wood (channelling his inner Frodo Baggins of naivety and misguided hope), Jennifer Connelly and Christopher Plummer. Combined with some incredibly original and provocative landscapes, 9 makes for some interesting viewing. When in comparison however, it never quite reaches the incredible heights of its rivals at Pixar or Dreamworks. Which is a shame because it had the chance to do something daring and shocking with the medium but instead bails out during the closing moments in favour of a poorly envisioned happy ending.

The film also fails in the 'moral message' it is trying to get across, using World War II-esque imagery of how mankind was before the fall. These images of a evil dictator using a super-machine to rule all of earth with an iron fist might of had some clout during the Cold War period, but in an age where mankind's biggest threats are global terrorism and the persistent warnings of climate change, it feels as though the message conveyed in 9 is about 30 years too late.

Final Thoughts
Despite some wildly provocative imagery, devastatingly bleak set designs along and a competant shift put in by the voice cast, 9 fails to deliver with some clumsy story-telling, and painfully predictable plot devices. It could have been dark, apocalyptic and genuinely disturbing but at the end of time when there is nothing left besides the cockroaches and a couple of rag dolls, you're left wondering "was that it?".


See this if you liked...
Terminator, The Matrix...Rosie and Jim?

9 is in cinemas everywhere now

Friday, 23 October 2009

Fantastic Mr Fox - Review

No matter how much one could argue that the Darjeeling Ltd was, in hindsight, an underwhelming experience Wes Anderson still ranks up there as one of the most stylish directors in American cinema at the minute. So when word broke out that he was to direct one of my favourite books from my childhood, Fantastic Mr Fox, words could not even begin to describe the excitement I had in anticipation of this glorious marriage of directorial vision and literary excellence. Combined with the inspired casting of George Clooney in the title role and Meryl Streep as his wife, along with Anderson's usual collaborators such as Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Defoe and Michael Gambon (amongst others), how could it possibly go wrong?

Well the sad fact is, it did. It wasn't a train crash of 'Michael Bay proportions' but it failed to live up to the hype, and it was contributed by a number of factors. Firstly the source material was, like certain previous Dahl adaptations for the screen, butchered to the point where the essence of the original tale was lost in a convoluted mish-mash of needless new characters and the odd inexplicible sub plot and change in the core character's personality. Perhaps bringing the source material in line with Anderson's other films, Fox was changed from a retired extraordinary hunter and reduced to a struggling newspaper journalist scraping to put food on the table with a suffocating wife and an angst ridden son just crying out for his father's attention and approval (Ben Stiller in Tenenbaums anyone?).

Secondly, you almost get the impression Anderson did not realise he was suppose to be making, first and foremost, a children's film. Certainly as I have argued excessively all year when reviewing any children's films such as Coraline or Up that the makers should never talk down to children or indeed patronise them. However with Mr Fox, Anderson failed to truly connect with the core audience, pandering mainly to the needs of his fans (granted I am one of them...) who may of criticise him for his previous film. If these characters were human and in a live action setting, you would almost believe their next door neighbours would probably be The Royal Tenenbaums or Fox's best mate would really be Steve Zissou. Finally as with the failings of some the other Dahl adaptations, for a quintessentially English tale, it felt far too Americanised at times.

If I manage to forget that Fantastic Mr Fox was one of the all time greatest novels of my childhood and suspend reality for a moment, as a stand alone film I thought it was actually a lot of fun deep down, the way Anderson incorporated aspects of Dahl's own personality into the book was tastefully subtle and actually a master-stroke of genius, from Fox's office mimicking Dahl's real life den where he wrote all his wonderful works, to basing the autumnal country side on the surroundings where the writer himself came from. The animation was possibly the highlight of the whole production, and where Anderson always tends to shine in his films for me, with the wonderfully warm woodland interiors of the animals' homes to the beautifully realised English village (which looked as if it was lifted straight from the set of Postman Pat) and the cold grey Orwellian farms of the antagonists. The dialogue though perhaps too fast and witty for some kids to comprehend, was excellent, with a real sense of chemistry between the actors who took part, the stand outs being Clooney himself for once again playing...himself. I'm a real campaigner for Jason Schwartzman being in more films and on the display of this performance, only furthers my argument. My only disappointment was that there could have been a bit more Bill Murray and Willem Defoe in the mix but as is always the way.

Final Thoughts
Ladies and gentlemen presenting to you, The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Wes Anderson. Not the Fantastic Mr Fox by Roal Dahl. Despite the frustrating flaws its still fun, witty, oozing with class and style and should at least have the Mums and Dads smiling and laughing even if all the children are doing is marvelling at the wonderful animation.


See this if you liked...
Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (not the Burton one!), James And The Giant Peach, The Witches, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou...

Fantastic Mr Fox is in cinemas everywhere from today.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

It's A Wonderful Life - Charity film showing.


APOLOGIES for the distinct lack of a review this week, was in hospital for an operation which has ceased all travels into the glorious world of film for myself for a wee bit, but fear not I will be back to the grand old cinema very soon!

Just posting an advertisement for a charity film showing in December in aid of the Fostering Network in the United Kingdom. No Christmas is ever totally complete unless you experience the 1946 classic, It's A Wonderful Life! So if all you kind and generous people in the blogging world are within the Belfast/Dundonald/Comber/Bangor/Ards area (or not even!?) get yourself down to the Tudor Cinema on Thursday 10th December for a true Christmas experience.

Tickets are £10. All the proceeds of the event go to the Fostering Network.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Up - Review

As mentioned in my review earlier in the week of Toy Story 3D, Pixar's imagination and talent knows no bounds. The same can once again be said about their 10th feature length film Up. The film centers around a grumpy old man named Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Edward Asner) and an overeager Wilderness Explorer named Russell who fly to South America in a floating house suspended from helium balloons. That synopsis however does not even begin to describe how beautiful and evocative Up is, taking Pixar's story-telling literally, to new heights.

Amongst the playful, imaginative narrative and wonderful adventure sequences, the film-maker's tackle themes not often seen in a "children's movie" namely death, greif, love and loss. And if you base Up on its stunning opening 10 minutes alone, that summarises Carl's life to date, you have a contender for film of the year. One of the brilliant things about Up is that everything is so preposterous and so 'out there' that it all compliments each other so wonderfully.

Only Pixar could make an old man the hero we all want to be, with a 12 year old sidekick, a loyal talking dog named Doug and a rare, nearly extinct bird called Kevin. It is almost visually like something out of The Wizard Of Oz or Alice In Wonderland. Despite all this, the director manages to humanise everything through the life experience of Carl and his handling of the grief for this recently deceased wife, Ellie. If everyone in this world had the courage and conviction to see out a dream, such as Carl, it would be a much happier and magical place. The villian of the piece, famed explorer Charles F. Muntz, is also handled exceptionally well, introduced in a Citzen Kane esque 1950s cinema news piece about his rise and fall, going into exile in South America with his trained up army of talking dogs and his daunting Zeppelin Airship. One of the stand out comedy moments of the film is both Muntz and Fredricksen having a sword battle, and both of them being over 60 or 70 feeling the ill effects of old age.

It's only tiny flaw, similar to 2008's masterpiece Wall-e, is that it kind of drifts away from the point around the midway mark, and falls into slightly more conventional action adventure trappings, but at the end of the day you have to cater for the 3-12 year olds as well. Darn... One of the reasons I think why Pixar have consistently got it so right over the years, is because all their films as something distinctly pure and innocent about them. A moment where time stops and the audience live in the moment, no matter how fantastic and outrageous it might seem. That's when iconic moments in film are made, and Up has this is abundance.

Final Thoughts
You will laugh, cry, smile and be left in complete awe and wonder (and that's just in the opening sequence). It does not pain me to say that Pixar have effortlessly, done it again. You will see very few films, never mind animated, this year as moving, hilarious and touching as the story of Carl Fredricksen in Up. With each release Pixar set new standards and raise higher bars for themselves and they always keep surpassing them, we all have our favourites (mine being Rataouille, Wall-e, Toy Story 1 and 2...and now Up) and we all have our lesser favourites (Cars, A Bug's Life and Finding Nemo) however no one can deny Pixar as the most important and innovative animators of the 21st Century so far. And the world is a better place for it.


See this if you like...
Toy Story 1 and 2, A Bug's Life, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, Wall-e, Cars, Ratatouille, The Incredibles and...well you get the idea...

Also look out for the traditional Pixar short film that precedes the main feature of Up, Partly Cloudy.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Toy Story 3D - Review

IT'S terrifying to think I was only 9 years old when Toy Story was originally released. Even more so because I am a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to animation, I still hold the original hand drawn Disney classics very close to my heart. So the whole CG animation generation that this film has brought with it still feels sort of like a relatively new experience for me.

First of all I should not have to say how absolutely wonderful and important Toy Story is in the history of animation, being the first entirely computer animated film and 15 years on still has not lost any of its charm. Charting the tale of two toys' rivalry to unbreakable friendship as they go on a journey from a colourful child's bedroom full of even more colourful characters to a Sci-Fi themed pizza restaurant and into the troubled kid next door's bedroom and back again. You should all know the story by now...and its sequel. If not, then shame on your soul.

Luckily for all you people who missed it the first time, now is your chance to experience it in Hollywood's new revamped medium, 3D! Having never experienced 3D until now I was actually pleasantly surprised at the results however not terribly blown away. Obviously being 15 years old, Toy Story is not the best example of the cutting edge technology in its element but even still, the 3D effect lifted the aesthetics of the movie beautifully.

What I hope however, is for the movies that are specifically made for 3D not to bog themselves down on the experience and still deliver a good film first and foremost. Toy Story is all of this and more, and being a good deal (not a great deal or significantly!!) older than when I originally saw this in the cinema back in 1995 it still did not fail to make me laugh out loud, smile with joy and nearly shed a tear, with touching performances from Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and co as well as iconic music from Randy Newman ('You Got A Friend In Me' anyone?).

Final Thoughts
With the highly anticipated threequel on its way, June 2010, this screening puts the audience in the right mood for its arrival to the big screen. The jury is still out on this 3D malarky, but that is very much a footnote here. 15 years on, Pixar's original baby is still as memorable and classy as you remember it to be. Anyone who never got the chance to experience this in the cinema I urge you to do this as soon as possible. And for those of you who have before, do so again...You'll believe a toy can fall with style all over again.

Film: 9/10
3D experience: 7/10

See this if you like...
...wait what do you mean you haven't seen it?

Toy Story in 3D is in cinemas that are equipped with the technology now. So in Belfast's case that's....two! Right? Correct me if I'm wrong on that one blogheads.