Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The A-Team - Review

After being bombarded by Orange mobile phone adverts before every single film I've seen in 2010, which happens to feature The A-Team, now is the time to see if their rather ostentatious plan of over-advertising was worth it.

Most readers will undoubtedly already know the story, but in case you weren't born in the 80s, the film tells the tale of four elite Iraq war soldiers, who are convicted of a crime they didn't commit. So after escaping prison they go about trying to clear their name, while eliminating the corrupt government officials who set them up - I love it when an action movie comes together...

Many - including myself - were surprised by the left-field casting of Liam Neeson as John 'Hannibal' Smith (was George Clooney busy?), but it turned out to be a rather inspiring choice. That is, once you got past his painfully confused accent of Americana mixed with, good old, home grown Northern Irish. He was slick, commanding and looked just as cool as his predecessor, George Peppard with a cigar. Obviously director Joe Carnahan must have seen Neeson shooting up thugs and scumbags in the 2008 thriller Taken which shows off his action prowess and certainly even I'd think twice of calling him a mere 'old man'.

Personally I thought Bradley Cooper would have made a good Murdock way before filming had even began however his take on Face was everything the character should be, charismatic, brave and certainly bold with the ladies. Very much still basking in the momentum he's built from his break-out role in last year's The Hangover.

While everyone seems to think Mr T played himself back in the day (OK, he kind of did...), I thought Quinton Jackson actually did a tremendous job of fleshing out the character, B.A Baracus, from the original series. The former Ultimate Fighting Championship star-turned actor gave a brilliant account of himself, contributing a bit more depth to Baracus than simply saying 'fool' and being afraid of any form of aircraft.

The scene-stealer and stand out performer of the 'Team' for myself was Sharlto Copley as the utterly insane Murdock - who provided most of the laughs from the audience, while also invoking a lot of the fun spirit of the original A-Team.

It says a lot for the supporting cast if the only actor to raise a smile from me was the cameo appearance of Mad Men's Jon Hamm in the film's closing moments.

Though she was perfectly competent as Cooper's token love interest, Jessica Biel really didn't contribute a big lot to the film besides being a pretty face to look at on screen, but hell it could have been worse, it could have been Megan Fox.

Patrick Wilson and Gerald McRaney - who also helped pen the screenplay - performed well enough as the horribly predictable, bad guys/corrupt US government officials, which once again served their purpose. Perhaps, if a sequel is made, some more creativity would go a long way in the development of the 'bad guys' featured in these kinds of action films.

However let's be honest for a minute, no one goes to see The A-Team for deep thinking or innovative character development, and if you did, you should be in the next cinema screen for Inception. The absolutely crazy, over the top, set pieces is where the film entertains massively, only in an A-Team movie could four guys survive a plane explosion by parachuting out of a tank and blowing up the two opposing planes in the process. Other pieces included an assault on Frankfurt and destroying the LA Harbour - which looked perhaps too similar to the closing scene of an overly identical film, The Losers.

The plot also was perhaps a bit too convoluted than it needed to be and I was also deeply upset that the iconic van was absent for most of the film, but sure least they kept the theme song right?!

Final Thoughts
The chemistry between Neeson, Cooper, Copley and Jackson was surprisingly fantastic while the action was delightfully over the top, worthy of the likes from Arnie, Sly and co. Unfortunately the brilliant performances from the stars weren't helps by a confused plot, forgettable supporting cast and some slightly dodgy CGI. Regardless, if you want a movie for mindless and enjoyable entertainment, if no other action movie will do, then perhaps you should rent The A-Team.


See This If You Liked...
The Losers or the original A-Team TV series.

The A-Team is in cinemas nationwide from today.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Gainsbourg - Review

The cinematic début from - graphic novel artist come film director - Joann Sfar is difficult to pin down. While on the surface the film seems like your standard bio-pic on the life of legendary performer Serge Gainsbourg, upon viewing, it is surprisingly anything but.

Starring Eric Elmosino in the title role, the film tells an unique interpretation rather than an a straight account of Serge Gainsbourg's life. From his early days living in Nazi-occupied Paris to the height of his music career the film is rife with provocative innuendos, artistic brilliance, innovative writing and old fashion sex, drugs and particularly brilliant music which isn't necessarily rock and, or, roll.

Visually Gainsbourg is one of the most vividly striking films to come out of France since Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie - and perhaps seen in the cinema all year. You could do nothing but just immerse yourself in the whole experience.

Thankfully the performances went much deeper than the character's vibrant, yet superficial, Parisian surroundings. Elmosino's Gainsbourg was as slick and sophisticated as he was deeply perverse and erratic. Strangely though I found it quite comforting to see he wasn't perceived as another musical artist with a horrid childhood as his chemistry with his parents - played by Razvan Vasilescu and Dinara Drukarova - was a comedic delight. They seemed to encourage their son's chaotic lifestyle and fame while basking in the novelty of his torrid affairs with these extremely glamorous and gorgeous women.

Arguably Gainsbourg's musical success - in the context of the film at least - could be attributed to the contributions of three particular women, the heavenly Jane Birkin (Lucy Gordon), the jaw-droppingly voluptuous Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta) and the deeply seductive Juliette Greco (Anna Mouglalis). All of whom could bring any full blooded heterosexual male to his knees. They were stunningly sexy yet also extremely brilliant women, in their own right, who managed to bring out the best in Gainsbourg's work.

The stand-out performance for me however came from Doug Jones - famed for his appearances in Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy films - as Gainsbourg's rather surreal and devilish imaginary friend, simply known as 'La Gueule'. An exaggerated self portrait of Gainsbourg, it represented the troubled artist's inner demons while also becoming the driving force for his creativity and sheer debauchery throughout his entire life. Almost coming across as a 20th century Grimm fairy tale in certain scenes.

The music of course was based almost entirely around Gainsbourg's brilliant work including my two favourite pieces, Bonnie and Clyde (feat. Bardot) and Je t' non plus (feat. Birkin). Here we start to delve into more traditional bio-pic territory, as we see how his most famous work came to be, and the personal connection Serge attributes to each individual piece, pending on which 'muse' he was with at time.

From the surreal, dream-like sequences inside Gainsbourg's head to his sobering real life horrors, the work put in by Sfar was remarkable. While devoted biographers of the man may perhaps be deeply annoyed by the artistic license taken by the director, but personally when a film is this suave, sexy and luxurious on the brain, who really cares? You can keep your 'Ray' and 'Walk The Line' I say...

Final Thoughts
Joann Sfar's exaggerated bio-pic is about as real as the nose and ears on Doug Jones' unsettling creature featured in the film, but regardless Gainsbourg is one of the most visually pleasing films you will see all year - and perhaps the best début feature you will see in 2010. A provocative and imaginative window in a world of complete self-indulgence, capturing the alluring, yet already preconceived, spirit of one of France's most acclaimed musical artists. Je t'aime...


See This If You Liked...
Walk The Line, Amelie, Coco Before Chanel.

Gainsbourg will be in selected cinemas from July 30th 2010. Belfast visitors will be able to see the film in the wonderful art-house, the Queens Film Theatre.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Toy Story 3 - Review

Some people have grown up with Star Wars, others hold Lord of the Rings close to their heart, but myself, since I was nine years old have grown up with Toy Story. It's been over 10 years since Pixar unleashed the wonderful - arguably superior - sequel upon the world, and ever since there has been talk of "will they" or "won't they" in regards to the possibility of a mythical third. Finally those nights living in hope are over.

Set approximately 10 years after the second instalment, time hasn't been kind to our favourite collection of toys, as their owner Andy (fine name by the way...) has, of course, grown older and understandably fell out of love with Woody, Buzz and the gang, who have resided themselves to living in the toy box for a number of years.

The real adventure starts to take shape when their dear owner is packing up for college, leaving his old toys to wonder whether they are excess scrap in a land-fill site or doomed to be pawned off on E-Bay. This sets them off on a journey to a day-care centre, which is not all what it seems, and forces the toys to confront some of their most unfortunate fears.

You only have to look at the trailer and reference the themes handled in previous Pixar films to know Toy Story 3 strikes a chord with people of all ages. And it's not an exaggeration to say all ages. It has enough playful humour and, fun, lovable characters to make a child smile, while also containing bundles of wit and class to genuinely make any grown adult laugh out loud. The film brings back some of the more 'scarier' moments seen, more so, in the original than the second chapter, as the 'evil' toys running the prison-like daycare centre make for some pretty horrid individuals.

While it's sad to see some characters from the first two films not return (I won't say who...), this is where Toy Story 3 actually makes its own case as the best of the trilogy. Any living person growing up can relate to having friends or family who were close to your heart at one point of your life but the painful realisation, sometimes, is we can all drift apart or feel like we're not needed any more. This film plays on this raw emotion and rewards its audience in bucket-loads.

Its not all completely tear-jerking (well mostly...), the film is still one of the most fun family adventures you are likely to see in the cinema all year, references older films such as The Great Escape and even a hint of The Shawshank Redemption, Star Wars, and strangely a bit of bleak Cormac McCarthy-esque narrative thrown in also - regarding one character's flashback story.

The voice cast were in fantastic form and haven't lost any of their charm with Tom Hanks and Tim Allen leading the charge as Woody and Buzz respectively. Don Rickles and John Ratzenberger provide plenty of dry witty banter in the form of Ham and Mr Potato Head while the grossly under-rated Michael Keaton delivers some scene-stealing numbers as the fashion loving, yet self-concious Ken doll. Obsessed Disney fans, such as I, will of course notice the role of Barbie was played by one Jodi Benson (who, everyone else asks?!) - the voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid.

Pixar's animation has obviously evolved leaps and bounds in the ten years since Toy Story 2, and yet the third is the outright best in terms of visuals, everything from the bedroom to the toy designs and even the human characters still retained an air of familiarity about them which still places it comfortably beside its predecessors.

Then of course there's the soundtrack, once again composed by ever-talented Randy Newman, and yes it features that utterly joyful song - You Got A Friend In Me, as well as, featuring some new pieces which fit beautifully into the film itself.

Final Thoughts
We've grown older, and Toy Story has grown up with us. I can only hope any nine year old child will have the same love and affection for this entire trilogy from its classy wit and beautiful visuals to its timeless characters, and their adventures, when they're in their 20s as I have. I genuinely fail to see how anyone could not like this film or the films to come before it. Its closing scene will warm your heart, as well as, make you shed a tear. And if it doesn't? Then at least it's forever got a friend in me...


See This If You Liked...
Toy Story 1 and 2.

Toy Story 3 is in cinemas nationwide now.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Inception - Review

There is a certain quality about cinema which is always greatly underestimated, in my opinion. A certain power to suck you in an entirely new world, total escapism, an unrivalled yearning to experience something more than what is put in front of us. Some people would ever say the same about dreams. Why not combined the two, some might say. Indeed some might say, but enter Christopher Nolan to be the one who acts.

Taking his contractual break from his trilogy of the Bat, his latest film Inception tells the tale of a group of very smart thieves, lead by a mysterious man named Dom Cobb - Leonardo DiCaprio - who steal ideas from dreams for the highest bidder.

When their latest heist goes wary, they're hired by the man - Ken Watanabe - whom they were originally stealing from in the first place (keeping up so far?) to plant an idea which could have a huge impact on world events. This method is known simply as Inception. Excited yet?

Having been a long admirer of Nolan's work, it was quite remarkable for even myself to see Inception surpass everything he has made previously. The director takes everything learned from all the films to come before and constructs a masterpiece of modern cinema. It takes the 'headmelting' qualities of Memento, combines it with the sheer scale of his Batman films and rounds it off beautifully with enough twists and turns worthy of The Prestige (my favourite entry).

The assembled cast is perhaps the most impressive seen in a film this year. There isn't any good guys or bad guys as such, they're all very grey characters in their own right. DiCaprio's leads his team with his own personal agenda while Joseph Gordon-Levitt's 'point man' follows his best friend to the depths of reality - while also providing the odd patch of comic relief.

The heart and soul belongs to the wonderful Ellen Page as 'the architect' but her true power, to the story, is in her innocence and naivety, forever keeping the team on the moral high ground. Tom Hardy's 'forger' got all the best lines while the stand out performance, worthy of praise on an award level, belongs to the gorgeous Marion Cotillard as the 'femme fatale' of the entire piece, a ghost from Cobb's past who has huge ramifications to the entire plot - despite not directly being a significant character in my eyes Fascinating, truly fascinating.

Similar in settings and approach, the film borrows a lot of its production value from The Dark Knight (strangely a bit of Modern Warfare 2 thrown in also) but the comparisons seriously do end there. This was perhaps the first film, Nolan had to, heavily rely on CGI and he used it to amazing effect, twisting and manipulating landscapes, then slowing it down with Matrix-esque bullet-time. Simply glorious.

The haunting and intense score from Hans Zimmer could only add the cherry to an already scrumptious cake in this elegant mix of science fiction crossed with a psychological thriller.

However Inception is more than just a brilliantly made film, its hopefully a landmark and wake up call to the entire industry. Proof, if you place your trust in truly talented film makers to attempt something entirely original, outside of the countless remakes, comic book films and reboots you can have your faith rewarded.

Final Thoughts
Let's be honest, if you've seen the trailer you've already made up your mind with this one. An enjoyable headmelt for all. Christopher Nolan not only surpasses the achievements of his previous films but has firmly cemented himself as perhaps the best director kicking about Hollywood at the moment. The cast is excellent, the story is excellent, this film is, if you haven't figured out by now, excellent.


See this if you liked...
The Matrix, 007 films, The Dark Knight and The Prestige.

Inception is in cinemas everywhere today.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Batman: Under the Red Hood - DVD Review

The next Batman live-action film from Christopher Nolan may still be two years away, but that doesn't stop Warner Bros releasing some delightful animated treats to keep, the more seasoned, fans entertained.

Under the Red Hood - based on a comic book arc of the same name - sets, the dear Caped Crusader, up against a ghost from his past in the form of The Red Hood, also known as Jason Todd, the second Robin.

For those unfamiliar with past events in the Batman universe, Jason Todd was famously killed by the Dark Knight's nemesis, The Joker - which is referenced marvellously in this surprisingly dark animated feature. Of course few in comic books actually die and manage to be brought back to life by some method, which defies the laws of science. This evidently leads Batman down a road where he must confront his horrid past and be forced into decisions which will no doubt impact on his future too. But enough of me spoiling the plot...

First off the animation on this feature is absolutely wonderful, capturing the true spirit of the latter day Batman books. Its overly dark tone also conjures memories of the frankly excellent animated series from the early 90s while also retaining elements which have been established in Christopher Nolan films - especially in the design of Gotham City.

Though the iconic voices of Kevin Conroy - Batman in the original animated series - and Mark Hamill - similarly so with The Joker - were unfortunately absent from Under The Red Hood, the contributions from Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek) and Joe DiMaggio made for more than worthy replacements. Particularly DiMaggio, who didn't bother trying to mimic Hamill or even Heath Ledger, bravely attempting to create his own representation of the character.

The support work from Jason Issacs as the sinister Ra's Al Ghul also deserves special mention, as does Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) in the role of Batman's original Robin, Dick Grayson, offering light relief amongst the darkness of the tale.

The writers simply did a terrific job creating a much more mature storyline, which will please die-hard fans as well as satisfy casual fans of the live-action films. There was much needed grit and violence present which had been, understandably, absent from the more recent animated series' such as 'The Batman' and 'The Brave and the Bold'.

It was much more in keeping with the previous Batman animated film, the visually stunning, yet extremely hollow, Gotham Knight. Under the Red Hood also does a much better job of delving into Batman's fascinating psyche; the fine line the tragic character dances between good and evil on a regular basis as well as his attitude towards The Joker.

Criticisms? There was actually very few, but maybe my love for the entire franchise has made me see the tale through rose-tinted glasses. Perhaps one could argue the film is more a fanboy extravagance than something accessible to all viewers, as some of the past storylines referenced would be lost on people unfamiliar with Batman outside of the cinema. I would, however, stress slight caution to parents as this is much darker than your average cartoon.

Final Thoughts
As far as your typical 'straight to DVD' features go, Batman: Under the Red Hood, is actually a particularly brilliant one. The overall production quality of both the voice acting and the animation is astounding from a film I wasn't expecting a huge lot from. If Warner Bros had sense they should, seriously, consider adapting a new series from this style. It would certainly be a worthy contender to the crown held by the 90s animated series, as the best representation of the Dark Knight outside of his original medium. Fanboy? Me? OK, I'll shut up now...


See This If You Liked...
Batman: The Animated Series, Mask of the Phantasm, The Dark Knight...well you get the idea...

Batman: Under the Red Hood is available on DVD/Blu-Ray from July 27th 2010.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Predators - Review

The Predator franchise has had a torrid time since its first incarnation, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, in 1987. Since then audiences have been treated to an awful sequel starring Danny 'I'm too old for this sh*t' Glover, going toe-to-toe in a dreadful crossover with the equally terrifying Alien brand and just to make matters worse, they made a sequel to that which was frankly an abominable excuse of fanboy indulgence.

And so the die-hard fans turn their gazing eyes to producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal to restore the creditability the series once had as a, frankly brilliant, survival horror.

Similar in tone to the original, the story features a group of elite warriors hunted in jungle settings by members of the merciless alien race we all know as the Predators. However just to make matters slightly harder this time, this eclectic bunch of killers are stuck on an entirely different world with no way to escape, just fighting to stay alive.

It's risky business to attempt a film which is essentially just a more ambitious rehash of the original, but strangely it worked surprisingly well. What was perhaps more risky was the left-field choice, Adrien Brody, for the leading character, who is often more famous for his straight award-winning acting roles as oppose to these mindless affairs.

Brody performed his duties well, as the lone solider leading this bunch of untrustworthy scum, and was even mildly convincing with a gun. Yes yes, we all want Arnold back but I was pleased with the results, and was certainly a much more compelling protagonist to have than simply drafting in some poor B-Movie substitute ala Vin Diesel or Jason Statham.

This was maybe unintentional - but was bothersome nevertheless - on the writer's part; but the supporting cast was seemingly made up of the most predictable and politically correct bunch ever seen in an action movie for some time. You had a token spiritual African solider, a silent but ruthless Yakuza member, a crazy Hispanic bounty hunter, a geeky, deceptively useless, 'doctor', a serial killer from death row, an Eastern European and of course a woman who probably kicks more ass than the males in the movie. All performed admirably but as you can imagine, were all essentially cannon fodder to the real stars of the piece, the Predators themselves.

The Predators were as foreboding as they have been in any film, comic book or computer game they've ever featured in, but the film-makers seemed to miss the point, once again, of what made them so brilliant in the first place. One of the chief reasons I love the original is because its almost psychological in its approach, this silent killer picking off its prey one by one, toying with the audience until its final encounter.

Though the director tries to capture the spirit of the original film with its setting, and toys with psychological aspects at the beginning, it disappointingly went the way of the later films by transforming into an all out action film instead of a game of pure wits and strategy. However, if you switch off your brain and take Predators for what it is as oppose to what the original Predator was, it was actually a mildly entertaining affair fitting of the Summer blockbuster season.

With risk of crossing into ranting geek territory, the setting of the film could have felt a bit more alien as oppose to just a doppelgänger for the Amazonian rainforest. More risks could have also been taken to include other beasts, bugs, monsters, aliens into the mix but I imagine this was more due to budgetary constraints than, director, Nimrod Antal simply playing it safe.

Upon reflection I almost feel as though this film was made about 15 years too late, as it would have made a worthy - albeit samey - sequel to the original (which is cleverly referenced in this), compared to what audiences were unfortunately subjected to in Predator 2.

Final Thoughts
Fans of the original will be happy to know Predators is not even close to the travesties of the awful sequel and Alien Vs Predator movies. It is however still not a patch on the brilliant original, and if you can accept that and take the film for what it is - a dumb, gory, but still fun, survival horror then you should be satisfied upon leaving the cinema. But I bet I know what you'll still be thinking - I wish Arnie was in it.


See This If You Liked...
Predator, Aliens, Pitch Black.

Predators is in cinemas everywhere now.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The Killer Inside Me - Review

Besides the 2006 left-field comedy, A Cock and Bull Story, my knowledge of Michael Winterbottom's career is shamefully quite limited. However, having wowed audiences on the festival circuit earlier this year, his latest film, The Killer Inside Me is leaving a course of controversy behind it I may just have to take a quick look at his back catalogue.

Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) is a pillar of the community in his small Texas town, patient and apparently thoughtful. As the audience is subjected to his chequered past and even patchier present, as to be expected, all is not what it seems. In an almost Shakespearian narrative Ford's path is blighted with lustful affairs, brutal murders and unjust blackmail.

Though the story was simple, elegant and beautifully executed, it does not make for easy viewing for more casual audiences, and not to be recommended as the ideal choice for a first date. Often having slight reminiscence of David Cronenberg's A History of Violence.

Casey Affleck's performance is unsettling as it is frightfully compelling. Slick, charming, non-offensive but has the ability to deliver a curve ball to the audience with his brutal misogynistic attitude towards his stunningly sexy co-stars, Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson.

The classy supporting turns from Tom Bower, Simon Baker, Elias Koteas and Bill Pullman also lifted the production from a bog standard, expensive TV-Movie affair into a chilling piece of independent cinema.

One aspect of The Killer Inside Me which was brilliant, was its ability to take its taboo subject matters and almost take the edge off with these, middle-of-the-road, period music pieces. One could argue it was extremely Tarantino in its approach.

Unfortunately the film was victim of perhaps being just as erratic and incoherent as its central character. Maybe it was a case of cinema fatigue on this critic's part but there were times which left me wondering if I had taken a complete mind-blank as the transitions between Ford's twisted scenarios just blended together without any real explanation. Furthermore the bleak west-country Americana setting was also painfully dull in parts.

It could have worked better as an AMC 6 part drama in the vein of Mad Men and Breaking Bad but that's surely a thought for another day.

Final Thoughts
Casey Affleck's deranged serial killer is just as chilling as the Hannibal Lecters and Patrick Batemans to come before him. Yes it's brutal, and uneasy viewing in parts but truthfully I've seen far worse in films such as Lars Von Trier's Antichrist and Gasper Noe's Irreversible, and in comparison The Killer Inside Me was not nearly as visually compelling. One thing's for sure, I wouldn't list it in my Top 5 Films for Valentine's Day...


See This If You Liked...
American Psycho, A History of Violence, Silence of the Lambs.

The Killer Inside Me is in selected cinemas across the UK now.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Top 10 of far.

It's genuinely hard to grasp how fast time goes by sometimes. Feels like it was only last week when I caught Sherlock Holmes on New Years Day in the cinemas. Madness I say!

With still plenty to look forward to in a action-packed, emotional roller-coaster of Summer blockbusters and Autumnal treats, here's my choice of the 10 best films audiences have been treated to this year - in no particular order.

If you haven't had the pleasure of catching all these films yet, I sincerely urge you to as soon as they're available on DVD!