Friday, 28 May 2010

The Losers - Review

If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... The A-Team. Wait that can't be right, let me start this review off again - If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire The A-Team, however, if they happen to be engaged, maybe you can call this new band of disgraced special ops soldiers, The Losers.

Based on the comic book series, of the same name, from DC/Darkhorse Comics, Clay (Jeffery Dean Morgan), Jensen (Chris Evans), Roque (Idris Elba), Pooch (Columbus Short) and Cougar (Óscar Jaenada) are members of an elite United States special ops team sent into the Bolivian jungle on a search and destroy mission.

However in true action movie fashion it doesn't, quite, go to plan and the team are framed for a crime they didn't commit - sounding familiar at all? Determined to clear their name and seek revenge on the mysterious criminal known simply as Max, the team join up with Aisha (Zoe Saldana) for a less than sophisticated mix of explosions, violence, bone idle heroism and quirky gadgets.

A-Team comparisons aside I enjoyed The Losers for what it was; big, loud, stupid and catered nicely to my, often exaggerated, manly side. The cast were in similarly fine form, with very little to choose between them. Their frantic and comedic nature in particularly tense situations was as much fun as the earlier Lethal Weapon films while their distinctly different personalities complimented each other brilliantly.

Regrettably it does suffer from more than a few pitfalls, such as the underwhelming quality of the CGI. The lead antagonist, Max (Jason Patric) just wasn't sinister enough or have any real connection to The Losers to make for a genuinely emotional encounter. You got the impression at times The Loser's own worst enemy was in fact themselves, and Max's typically corrupt, capitalist, government official was just a vehicle to channel the film's focus than the opportunity to display an interesting villain.

One of the most unfortunate aspects of The Losers' is the director, Sylvain White, placing most of the best moments within the trailer and not leaving much else to the imagination. That said I enjoyed the trailer, therefore an extended version of it is hardly an awful thing by any means, just disappointing. Despite the highly stylised action, a nifty comic book introduction and mostly witty dialogue there was very little to offer the audience they haven't seen in a dozen Arnold Schwarzenegger films past.

Final Thoughts
It won't win any awards for originality, and could well suffer from being released in the same year as the A-Team and the highly anticipated 80s romp, The Expendables. However The film is a fun way to kill a couple of hours in the cinema, with a wonderful ensemble of high quality actors. They may be Losers, but I can't fault them for effort.


See This If You (think you might) Like...
The A-Team and The Expendables

The Losers is out in cinemas everywhere now.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time - Review

The road to the perfect 'game to movie' adaptation has often been a lonely, rocky, one in the world of cinema. Some might argue Hollywood's past choices were completely off the mark (Street Figther, Mortal Kombat and Doom), others might say there was never an appropriate budget to accommodate the sheer size and commitment needed to achieve a creditable feature (Tomb Raider, Hitman, Silent Hill and Max Payne) while some just feel those evil producer types are simply out to royally 'rape your childhood' (Super Mario Bros and Resident Evil). To put it kindly, it doesn't make for pleasant viewing.

So when mega-producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, goes out on a limb to bring yet another franchise to the big screen, heads understandably rolled - this critic's included. Surprisingly however, the results were quite pleasing. Having never fully played the Prince of Persia games since its original incarnation on the PC, back when the world was young, I was perhaps more open minded than I was when watching something like Super Mario Bros (even at seven years old, I knew it sucked).

The film gets off to a good start with a creditable leading performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. Taking elements from all three next generation POP titles - Sands of Time, Warrior Within and Two Thrones - the story sets the young Prince Dastan off on a perilous journey to clear his name for the murder of his father, while uncovering a hideous, albeit, standard conspiracy by his evil uncle to seize the throne and set off a spiral of events undoubtedly leading to armageddon.

First off, despite being directed by Mike Newell, the overall style of the film screams Bruckhiemer. Warm vivid colours, sultry female characters, large action set pieces and a story that everyone from the age of five would surely be able to grasp. This however doesn't detract from the amount of fun I had while watching the film.

With Walt Disney Pictures on board; the Pirates of the Caribbean references are justifiably applicable. Though set across a completely different landscape, one Captain Jack Sparrow would hardly feel out of place swashbuckling alongside Dastan. Certain scenes of Gyllenhaal dodging danger through crowded marketplaces were also reminiscent of the Disney animated classic, Aladdin.

Jake Gyllenhaal was as charismatic as he was predictably noble and heroic. The support performances from Sir Ben Kingsley and Gemma Arterton fitted the, standard evil uncle and damsel in distress/love interest, archetypes perfectly, while the personal highlight came from Alfred Molina for his light hearted, swindling con-man/ostrich bookie.

I wanted to walk out of this film, with a list of faults, the size of my arms, but if I'm being brutally honest my criticisms are pedantic at best. I never understand why American actors such as Gyllenhaal see the need to revert to English accents for this sorts of affairs. Sure Persian princes probably didn't sound like full-blooded Americans, but I doubt they sounded like they were born and raised on the Queen's English either.

Final Thoughts
It's scale is epic, it's story is painfully simple and the characters are lifted straight from Christmas pantomimes, but you know what? I enjoyed every single minute of it. Prince of Persia is possibly the first ever example of a computer game franchise turned into a fun action adventure affair on par with Bruckheimer's best. While Sands of Time can't atone for the sins of past attempts, the long lonely road for creditable video game adaptations isn't so lonely any more. Though if Pixar would just make a computer-animated Mario movie all would be forgiven...


See This If You Liked...

The Mummy, Pirates of the Caribbean, Aladdin.

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is in cinemas nationwide now.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans - Review

Werner Herzog is, what some may call, a very brave man. Brave for making cutting edge, beautifully shot documentaries as well as having a long history of creating innovative and provocative cinema. However perhaps what was one of the bravest acts he has undertaken in recent years was let - in this critic's mind - Nicolas Cage star in his latest film. Luckily for the delightfully eccentric director, it was a gamble that undoubtedly paid off.

Borrowing ideas from a 1992 film of the same name - the director insists it's not a remake - Bad Lieutenant tells the story of Terence McDonagh as a drug and gambling addled detective in post-Katrina New Orleans investigating the killing of five Senegalese immigrants. As pressure increases on the detective, the intensities of his addictions grow until he is unable to tell what all is good in the world, or - as you probably would guess from the title - what is indeed, bad.

I have been rather unkind to Nicolas Cage in recent years, and with pieces of unspeakable turd such as Ghost Rider, Bangkok Dangerous, The Knowing, not to mention, The Wicker Man remake, I will never apologise for it. However this critic is always man enough to admit when an actor performs a creditable job, having already redeemed himself marginally with a hilarious appearance in last month's, smash hit, Kick Ass. Cage manages to go one further with, quite possibly, one of the stand out leading performances of the year so far.

Experiencing Cage slowly lose his grip on reality as, the brooding, detective McDonagh was as fascinating, as it was, completely unsettling. His experiences painted a lonely figure as he start hallucinating cold blooded animals and threatening defenceless old women with a Magnum .44. It was strangely comedic in parts, with an almost classic Tarantino tinge to the entire proceedings - his character wouldn't be completely out of place in the likes of Pulp Fiction.

Never mind the shocking revelation that Val Kilmer actually still appears in films (OK, that was a low blow, I loved him in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), the supporting turn from, the gorgeous, Eva Mendes, as Cage's cocaine addicted, prostitute girlfriend, elevated the film from a standard thriller, to a rigorously sexy, lustful film noire.

Perhaps most surprisingly the film managed to create rather tender personal moments for its lead character in the midst of the hard hitting grittier scenes, such as Cage recalling an uplifting memory of his childhood which nearly made the heart warm and forget the painful drug laden reality the protagonist was suffering through.

New Orleans' hopeless backdrop combined superbly with William Finkelstein's beautifully crafted story, conjuring feelings of a modern rendition of Roman Polanski's Chinatown or a far grittier imagining of Scorsese's The Departed. Mark Isham's sophisticated score could only amplified the cinematic magic unfolding on screen.

Final Thoughts
Unpredictable, intense, unsettling and even commanding the ability to raise a cheeky smile or a light hearted chuckle, this is what a real Nicolas Cage performance is all about. Werner Herzog comes out of nowhere to remind audiences the best cinema is often made with a beautifully crafted screenplay, some lush cinematography and most importantly, high quality performances from hard working actors not bland CGI and needless 3D conversions. If that doesn't peak you interest, its got random lizards and break dancing corpses?! One of the best films of the year so far.


See This If You Liked...
Chinatown, The Departed, Bad Lieutenant (1992)

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is, hopefully, in most cinemas from Friday 21st May

Monday, 10 May 2010

Robin Hood - Review

It has always been a conundrum for me, over the years, but I have always had an enthusiastic interest in the legend of Robin Hood, and sometimes I can't understand why. I hate the outdoors, crap at archery and rarely the charitable type. Yet one of my favourite childhood films is Walt Disney's Robin Hood, one of my guilty pleasures is 1991's Prince of Thieves - I even like that Bryan Adams song - as well as having fond memories of watching the Mel Brooks' parody Men In Tights with my family while growing up.

Cinematic adaptations of Robin Hood are hardly a new thing, often seen as a recurring fixture in cinema for the past 100 years - the first entry; a silent film released in 1908. With long time collaborator Russell Crowe leading the line, Ridley Scott is the latest in a long line of directors putting their own nuances on the much celebrated tale.

Much to my surprise the film doesn't follow closely to other adaptations released in recent years, with Scott opting to tell an origin story of how Robin became the man who robbed from the rich instead of telling that age old story. That's not to say it didn't have the usual traits, he was still a returning solider of King Richard's crusade, there was still Maid Marian and indeed all the Merry Men were accounted for. Though there was a distinct lack of giving to the poor...

A decade has past since Crowe starred in Gladiator, unleashing hell at his command. He may be older and not quite as lean as he once was - it shows - he still manages to have that, dominate, heroic presence which served him so well in the aforementioned classic. His take on Hood feels like a more erratic prospect than most of his predecessors, a man with no real past, still searching for a real purpose in life, not instantly caring whether he should rob from the rich and give it away so selflessly to the poor. Crowe is one of the few actors, I feel, to actually humanise the character, exploring the prospect - often hinted in past versions - he was a bit of a self-absorbed twit at times.

His band of Merry Men consisting of Little John (Kevin Durand), Friar Tuck (Mark Addy), Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes) and Allan A'Dayle (Alan Doyle) provided much needed comic relief to the proceedings. While - bad guy of the week - Mark Strong was as villainous as he has been in, the likes of, Sherlock Holmes and Kick Ass as King John's chief henchmen, Sir Godfrey - a variation on the classic evil-doer, Guy of Gisbourne.

Disappointingly however, was the failure to use the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew MacFadyen) properly within the feature, though there's reason to suggest they're keeping his role low key in the likelihood a sequel may crop up. Unfortunately the glimpses we do see of the 'honourable' sheriff, it was fair to say Alan Rickman - who made the role famous in Prince of Thieves - he was not. While Cate Blanchett was probably the strongest Maid Marian I have seen since I started watching these types of affairs, never once coming across the damsel in distress like many of her counterparts.

Though I commend Ridley Scott for trying something different with the story, there were some needlessly clumsy back-stories and flashbacks which brought the overall quality of the film down as well as the sincere lack of Sherwood Forest. Also if someone would care to explain the random homeless children frolicking in the forest I would be much appreciated as I can't quite fathom how it served any purpose to the story.

What will perhaps become a minor issue to mass audiences; I found myself royally underwhelmed by the score from Marc Streitenfeld- no Enya? Not one tear. Seriously. I usually gush like a baby during these epic affairs but Robin Hood unfortunately failed to do that.

Final Thoughts
He may seem a bit rougher - or floppier - around the edges but this Robin Hood is still bold, epic and courageous. Audiences, however, may be disappointed to find this isn't the story we've all heard before. The film is not without its obvious flaws, but sometimes the amount of personal enjoyment outweighs the shortcomings. I asked at the beginning of this review why this story fascinates me so, and now I see why, his legend is an inspiration to do something just in this world, classic heroism at its best, in a time long before the likes of Batman and Superman first came along. He'll rise...and rise again. Roll on the sequel!


See This If You Liked...
There much point listing them this week?

Robin Hood is in cinemas nationwide from May 14th 2010.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine - Review

Maybe I'm turning into an old miserable git at the tender age of 24. I confess after hearing the name, seeing the trailer and even sitting in the cinema waiting for it to begin I genuinely did not want to watch this film. However it wouldn't have been awfully professional of me if I didn't (or perhaps there was nothing else on...), so here I present the 'Neo-Classical, Post-Modern comedy' Hot Tub Time Machine.

Set in present day Los Angeles, three friends have had a string of bad luck with their adult lives: Adam (John Cusack) has been dumped by yet another girlfriend and his video game obsessed nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) lives in his basement; Lou (Rob Corddry) is a party guy past his prime; and Nick (Craig Robinson) has a dead end job and a soul-sucking wife named Courtney who controls his every move.

In a last ditch effort to recapture the spirit of their youth they decide to check into a run down hotel, get severely drunk and wake up the next morning in 1986 by virtue of...yes...that's right...a Hot Tub Time Machine.

Now I love the majority of 80s pop culture; the music, the films, the cartoons, it was all absolutely glorious. However it was a shame there was very little of this present in the film. I concede I found myself laughing out loud in parts but really it was nothing that I wouldn't of laughed at regardless of which decade it was set in. Technological advancements aside, 80s pop culture is too similar to the decade we live in today.

The highly ambitious concept resulted in a missed opportunity to do something so naff yet brilliant. I got the impression the producers of the film were drunk one night and wondered what would happen if they cross the grossly over-rated comedy, The Hangover, with Robert Zemeckis' wonderful, time hopping, Back to the Future trilogy.

Despite the obscene concept, the performances were actually quite entertaining. Though I always feel like I'm missing something, John Cusack is a good actor right? I'm not just imagining this? Either he likes to swim through the oceans of mediocre films or he's simply got an awful agent. High Fidelity aside he just isn't charismatic enough to carry movies like this.

Clark Duke's performance as 'the geek' was probably the most amusing, possibly because out of all of the characters he was the one who was deeply unsettled living in a decade bereft of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter. Almost like a modern Marty McFly.

The highlight for me personally was the appearance of screen legend Chevy Chase, playing a character not too dissimilar to that conjured feelings of Time Lords from Doctor Who and Christopher Lloyd's iconic Doc Brown.

One tiny criticism is the bland choice of 80s music present, making me wonder if the soundtrack was just a Best Of compilation from the era instead of taking the time to have a bit of fun with some of the choices.

Final Thoughts
Films like Hot Tub Time Machine are plentiful however many rarely succeed in hitting the mark of comedy excellence. This movie just about gets away with its absurdity. Fun way to kill a couple of hours, and it even makes me smirk a little at the mention of its outlandish title but please, just don't make me watch it again.


See This If You Like...
Back to the Future & The Hangover

Hot Tub Time Machine is in cinemas nationwide now.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street - Review

Let it be known I normally detest horror films. Possibly because nothing really shocks me any more and their plots are usually stretched thinner than my malingering bank accounts, but nevertheless there comes a time when one must attend the local picture house for a subtle mash up of blood, gore and an appreciable amount of scantily clad women, going into rooms they really should know better not to enter.

After laying dormant since 2003's hilariously bad Freddy Vs Jason, Hollywood super-villain/producer Michael Bay, in association with director Samuel Bayer, thought it was time to resurrect the spirit of Freddy Kruger for a much anticipated, yet not entirely needed, remake of the infamous 80s slasher A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Following relatively close to the original plot, albeit it with a few modern day updates, Freddy Kruger (Watchmen's Jackie Earle Haley) stalks the dreams of Nancy and her friends as they discover they all share a common link from their childhood; they were all physically and sexually abused by Freddy before he was murdered by their vengeful parents. Now a supernatural force in their dreams, Freddy plans to kill off the children that alerted the parents about his deeds.

Maybe this is my age showing but I vividly remember being about six or seven watching the first Nightmare on Elm Street and I won't lie, I was unable to sleep for days afterwards, rare does films of this nature have that effect on me any more and maybe there was a part of me wanting to watch this remake and rediscover the thrill of being that scared once again, but alas it was not meant to be.

Jackie Earle Haley - succeeding Robert Englund - did a tremendous job of taking Kruger back to his more sinister roots as a psychological terrorist of dreams however, the director chooses to cheapen his appearances, to nothing more than primarily a lot of jumpy flashes from nowhere. Some might argue that's the whole point of Freddy Kruger, and they wouldn't be wrong but the film worked better in the quieter scenes when Kruger is stalking his prey to the point of madness, exchanging retorts and attempting to understand the sick and twisted man in the stripy jumper.

Choice scenes were the genuinely deleterious flashbacks of Kruger before he falls victim to the blazes of hell, playing 'innocently' with the children he chose to stalk later in life. Though I believe the writers overlooked the lack of logic - unlike the original strangely - involved in the parent's actions once they found out Kruger's true nature.

The rest of the cast ... well what can I say? They were young, stupid, good-looking and screamed a lot. I barely remember their character's names so there's probably zero chance I'm going to remember them as creditable actors. They did the job required and that's about that, it was hardly Shakespeare after all.

On a superficial level, the film conjured memories of 2003's Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake - coincidentally also produced by Michael Bay - very rich in colour and almost as vain in its presentation as its producer, once again falling into the 'If film's were MTV music videos...' category. The scenery might work superbly in the likes of an old school KoRn or Slipknot video but seems to take away from the gritty fright-fest that surely was intended.

Strangely one of the highlights of the film was the, beautifully chilling, score by Steve Jablonsky (Transformers) which made an ill-fated attempt to enhance the predictable and cumbersome experience but unfortunately one cannot live on film scores alone.

Final Thoughts
Jackie Earle Haley's excellent portrayal brings the nightmare of Freddy Kruger to a whole new generation, unfortunately Samuel Bayer is unable to take advantage of a potentially fascinating character study, instead falling into the same old, tired, routines which made film audiences fed up watching A Nightmare on Elm Street to begin with. It has the odd tense moment but I doubt I'll have much trouble going to sleep tonight...


See This If You Like...
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), the original Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is in cinemas nationwide from Friday 7th May 2010.