Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World - Review

Despite being a huge fan of Bryan Lee O'Malley's epic graphic novel series, even I have to admit the advertising campaign for the, long awaited, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World verged on obscene with the hipster, emo and geek chic references.

If you haven't had the pleasure of reading the books, the movie's concept is, at its core, pretty straightforward. Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), a likable loser from Toronto, Canada where he's unemployed (which never seems to really bother him), playing bass in the delightfully named Sex Bob-Omb and dating a 17 year old named Knives.

All seems well until the gorgeous and mysterious Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) enters the fold and consequently turns his life upside down. The catch however, in his unique romantic comedy, is in order to date the woman of his dreams, Scott must defeat Ramona's seven evil exes. Too much effort one might say, or perhaps I just say...

First of all, as a fan of the books, it pains me to say I'm actually disappointed by the film. I always was quite perplexed as to how Edgar Wright was going to adapt six, rather detailed, graphic novels filled with flashbacks, bizarre computer game influenced interludes and some interesting sub-plots into a two hour film. The ending result however felt rushed and the pace was so fast I'm surprised I didn't suffer a migraine from the 100 mph visual assault on my cerebral senses.

At times though it does strike a familiar note with Mike Myer's wonderful Wayne's World films in terms of cultural significance of the youth today (I say 'youth' I'm only 24...).

Michael Cera, world renowned by now for playing the same happy-go-lucky bloke in every film he appears, played the title role perfectly. Whether you like him or hate him, he was born for this, but it's a slight shame he never had the chance to really delve into that darker side we saw glimpses of in last year's Youth In Revolt. Mary E Winstead had all the elements which made most male readers of the graphic novels fall for Ramona in the first place, complete with her alluring qualities while also showing a softer side when her cynical sarcastic wall is finally broken down.

However it is, very much, the cool supporting performances where the film really takes shape. The stand out personally being the truly fantastic Kieran Culken as Scott's gay room-mate Wallace. The comic timing of all his lines were delivered with complete precision which begs me to ask, why he wasn't in it more often.

Also the classy, albeit occasional, appearance from the wonderful Anna Kendrick as Scott's younger sister added a bit of depth to the support list. Would also just like the raise a point that the actor of Young Neil - Johnny Simmons - in terms of looks perhaps would've been a better Scott Pilgrim than Michael Cera but whether he has the performance to match is probably a debate not worth having.

Equally, the 'League of Evil Exes' produced some of the more enjoyable moments of the movie, and is also where the adaptation is perhaps most faithful to the books. While Jason Schwartzman worked wonderfully as the 'final boss', the appearances of Satya Bhabha and Superman himself (Brandon Routh to his mum) as evil ex one and three respectively were the highlights for action, visuals and overall execution.

I was expecting more from the soundtrack which was filled with bland indie junk however, the sound effects taken from various computer games of my youth such as The Legend of Zelda and the Mario series raised a smile or two from me.

The climaxing scene also felt a little underwhelming and perhaps Mr Wright would have been best to wait until the final book had been released before attempting to make up his own ending for the film, but such is Hollywood I guess. Perhaps a TV series spanning six seasons at some stage? Anyone?

Final Thoughts
Despite the visual assault which is guaranteed to either blow your mind or put you into an epileptic fit, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World was regrettably a shoddy adaptation of an amazing graphic novel. Hurts me greatly to say the book is full of much more epic clashes, comedic wit and deeply heartfelt moments than what the resulting film put before us.


See This If You Liked...
Wayne's World, Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World is in cinemas everywhere now.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Salt - Review

Considering recent world events involving Russian spies caught living on American soil, a couple of months back, the timing of Salt's release couldn't have been better nor more ironic.

Angelina Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, who is accused of being a KGB Sleeper Agent, and goes on the run to try to clear her name. Well sort of. Salt follows similar routes with like-minded plots seen in films such as the action-packed Bourne trilogy and Tom Cruise's ridiculously over the top, yet highly entertaining, Mission:Impossible films.

Surprisingly the film isn't nearly as awful as I was initially expecting, and the action sequences actually being fairly well thought out, however it's a shame Salt stumbles a few times from some absolutely absurd storytelling, which is just too convoluted for words. Whereas the Bourne trilogy unravels a mystery over the course of three films, Salt is perhaps guilty at times for revealing too much too quickly to make even the calmest of heads think, "WTF?"

Despite her, rather irksome, off-screen exposure in various gossip magazines around the world, it is easy to forget Angelina Joile is actually a pretty decent actress. Though I'm never quite sure whether to applaud or simply denounce her persistence of pursuing these action heavy roles.

Despite her Oscar glories in beautifully crafted cinematic dramas she seems to get a kick from making films such as the utterly terrible Tomb Raider movies, the silly yet playful Mr and Mrs Smith and the woeful adaptation of the Mark Millar's graphic novel, Wanted. Perhaps she just likes these types of roles where her characters are one woman war machines who seemingly can't be killed by conventional weapons.

In Salt she fails to expand on these recurring character traits and does the exact same thing we've seen her do in the aforementioned films. No wonder Tom Cruise turned down the role because it's literally Ethan Hunt crossed with Jason Bourne.

The supporting turns from the gloriously underrated Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor were much more compelling than the grey soulless 'US government villains' in pretty much every other action film seen in the cinemas this summer, from The Losers, to The A-Team and rounding it off with The Expendables.

One of the main issues with Salt however is it's perhaps 25 years too late to be truly relevant in correspondence to world events. Did no one tell the writers the Cold War is over? Those 'Soviet Russians' might have looked effortless evil, when placed, in Sean Connery era James Bond films but just doesn't strike the same type of chord with modern day audiences.

Final Thoughts
Salt is without a doubt the best of Jolie's ventures into the action movie genre and if a proposed sequel is indeed in the works, I could frankly think of worse ways to spend my money in the cinema. The set pieces are delightfully over the top, typically defying logic yet still loads of fun to witness on the big screen. As for the plot? Well best take that with a pinch of...No. Too easy.


See This If You Liked...
The Bourne Trilogy, Mission:Impossible, Wanted.

Salt is in cinemas everywhere now.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes - Review

Before even sitting down to watch Juan Campanella's The Secret in Their Eyes, it already had a lot to live up to. With its, somewhat, surprising success at this year's Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Feature category the movie, some might say, controversially pipped two phenomenal films, A Prophet and The White Ribbon (theFILMblog's best film of 2009) to the coveted prize. But let's not give it an automatic 5/5 rating, based on past achievements, shall we? After all, Forest Gump beat The Shawshank Redemption to the Best Picture prize in 1995 and in my humble opinion that doesn't make Gump the superior film.

Based on Eduardo Sacheri's book La Pregunta de Sus Ojos (The Question in Their Eyes), a retired legal counselor writes a novel hoping to find closure for one of his past homicide cases and for his unreciprocated love with his past boss - both of which still haunt him decades later.

Think it's perhaps got to the stage where I shouldn't be surprised how accessible a film like this is. The pace and execution of the storytelling was absolutely glorious, as well as, its seemingly effortless ability to skip back and forth from the 70s and 90s in its intertwining narrative.

The settings of Buenos Aires added a resplendently understated elegance to the feature, arguably similar in many ways to the film Adrift - viewed earlier this year at the Belfast Film Festival. The vibrant settings of Argentina enhanced the film in a way Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro failed to truly demonstrate (yes I am aware Tetro was filmed in black and white).

The performances however are where the film truly shines. Ricardo Darin, in the leading role as Benjamín, was magnificent. Showing in the more vintage 70s sequences a man full of heart as well as a truthful exuberance for the law. As oppose to the more modern day narrative, where we see a man full of regret and faint wisdom as he refuses to move on from what has already came to be.

Equally his female opposite, Soledad Villamil was as beautiful as she was compelling, though I found it quite interesting she as a character had not changed much from how we originally see her in 1974. Younger of course but always waiting for her man to come and sweep her off her feet. In this respect the film was, at its core, quite a moving and heartfelt love story which spanned a generation.

Despite some particularly gritty moments, on par with the wonderful cinematic adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I found myself rather fascinated by some of the more ethically greyer themes, touched upon, in the film. One particular area concerning the troublesome loopholes in a justice system, where a man convicted of murder can walk freely by simply providing information to authorities. Faintly similar - and nothing more - to the ridiculous Law Abiding Citizen, but told with much more intelligence and with a resulting vengence much more sinister than a wounded husband going on a senseless killing spree.

Always because the film was being told from Darin's first person perspective, essentially Benjamin's novel, there was perhaps a hint of over-elaborate storytelling and romanticising his past affair, but regardless it made for some truly compelling cinema.

Final Thoughts
Whether the film deserved the Oscar ahead of A Prophet or The White Ribbon is frankly a ridiculous argument to make, and not what the film should be judged on. However, regardless of which you prefer, The Secret in Their Eyes is still a gloriously executed crime thriller with some genuinely classy performances and exquisite surroundings. All from a bloke who directed a few episodes of House no less...


See This If You Liked...
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Following, Law and Order (TV) and Luther (TV)

The Secret in Their Eyes is currently running in selected cinemas across the UK now.

Friday, 13 August 2010

The Expendables - Review

The closest thing to a retirement home, for all our favourite action movie stars from the 80s, is finally upon us. Sylvester Stallone, riding on the successes of his latest additions to the Rambo and Rocky franchises, has decided to give all his old buddies a bell and give them some work which actually gets to be shown in the cinema! Isn't this fantastic?! Really?! Well not particularly...

The premise of the film is unsurprisingly simple. A team of elite, highly-trained mercenaries known as The Expendables are sent into South America to overthrow a ruthless cold-blooded dictator. But once the mission begins, they discover a plot far more sinister than they were led to believe.

I won't lie, when this project was originally announced, I was jumping with joy. But upon watching the end product, I felt slightly conned. I was expecting Sly teaming with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren and Mickey Rourke for a dream team of epic proportions. Unfortunately Stallone chose to pair himself with Jason Statham (was Vinnie Jones busy?), Jet Li, Randy Couture and the dad from Everybody Hates Chris.

All sarcasm aside, the cast performed competently with the ham-fisted script they were given. Just a shame, the stand out scene of the entire running time was the five minute meeting with Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis. The chemistry was wonderful, and the inside jokes raised a smile or two in the audience.

If you love your Predators, Cobras, Terminators, Universal Soldiers, Robocops, Tango and Cash then the nostalgic experience of The Expendables is certainly for you. However, unlike two very similar films released this year, The Losers and The A-Team it didn't quite have the acting panache to go along with it. What the film did do however - unlike the aforementioned films - was turn the blood and gore factor up to 11, making for some stupendously awesome yet completely absurd death sequences.

Unfortunately The Expendables often pales in comparison to more modern and inventive action films, such as the Bourne Trilogy and even the latter day entries to the Bond franchise. Some might call this an unfair statement, but even compared to the films the older members of the cast were making 'back in the day' this film is indeed quite average - I was also deeply disappointed at the lack of memorable one-liners.

Obviously I can appreciate Stallone wasn't aiming for Oscar glory when writing and directing The Expendables and in all honesty it was only a Jean-Claude Van Damme (who turned down a role because his character apparently 'lacked substance'?!), Steven Seagal (conflicts with the producer), Wesley Snipes (umm...prison?), Kurt Russell (wasn't interested) and Carl Weathers away from being a genuine contender as a cult classic B-Movie. But alas it was not to be and we're stuck with 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin and various other actors of similar elk, frankly, very few people genuinely care about.

Final Thoughts
If you like your action films really really dumb, and I'm not even talking 'Michael Bay dumb' then by all means, get the lads together for 100 minutes of no holds barred, unadulterated, over the top carnage and violence. Just a shame the final cast list was largely forgettable and the plot was so painstakingly average, it made Commando look like Shakespeare. Do yourself a favour and wait for the DVD folks, which is what the film should have been released on directly in the first place.


See This If You Liked...
Commando, Rambo, Terminator, Die Hard, Tango and Cash.

The Expendables is in cinemas everywhere from today.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Centurion - DVD Review

In a FILMblog first I have returned to a film reviewed earlier this year. Has time been kind to Neil Marshall's Roman epic?

When I originally reviewed Centurion earlier this year (here!), my main problem above all else was the film’s overall lack of cohesion. Poor editing resulted in a somewhat unfinished movie; however I enjoyed it enough not to write it off completely.

I often proposed if the audience would perhaps benefit from being subjected to a DVD release of an extended cut to give the character’s more time to breathe on screen. This course of action may have elevated the feature from simply being ‘alright’ into something very cool and stylish.

Unfortunately Neil Marshall’s film, set around the legendary Roman Ninth Legion, wasn’t given the ‘director’s cut’ treatment and we’re still faced with the problems which brought the feature down in the first place.

More general movie goers could rightly argue a film like Centurion doesn’t need to be bogged down in the bothersome burdens of well rounded characters and a multi-layered plot. It’s also OK to simply be just an exercise in aggression similar to Zack Snyder’s 300. Which is a fair enough comment, but Centurion very much lacks the iconic graphic novel imagery and quotable geekery which will be forever associated with Snyder’s excellent film.

This is a genuine shame as the movie sports a genuinely fantastic cast, featuring some of the hardest working and most under-rated cinematic talent about at the moment. Michael Fassbender’s leading turn was merely a taste of what’s to come for the ever-versatile actor.

Dominic West’s performance still retained the substantial presence and rebellious charm which was often attributed to his starring role in TV’s The Wire. While the likes of Noel Clarke and David Morrissy added much needed depth and quality to the supporting cast – especially as Olga Kurylenko failed to inspire any kind of emotion as the film’s leading antagonist.

With Neil Marshall being an expert in the art of sheer brutality – previous films include The Descent and Dog Soldiers – he delivers plentiful with much more grit than what we have seen in similar features such as Ridley Scott’s award-winning, Gladiator.

The DVD release however does sport a, pleasantly surprising, range of special features, such as more light-hearted outtakes and a 30 minute documentary on the making of the film – which once again shows the people working on this film cared about the movie they were making. Yet unfortunately through a mixture of technical difficulties and quite possibly budgetary constraints the movie they probably wanted to make failed to materialise.

The deleted scenes also gave a fading glimpse into a film which could have been more – albeit not much more – than merely a festival of brutal violence and gore.

It’s not a complete loss though, still contains well constructed, compelling action pieces and glossy camerawork which will come out beautifully in any Blu-Ray presentation of the film.

Final Thoughts
My revisit of Neil Marshall’s historical mishmash of Roman and Celtic brutality is still full of the bittersweet disappointment I felt when originally seeing it in the cinema. However, if character development and a general lack of cohesion isn’t something you are overly concerned it’s still very watchable. There’s probably a lot of DVDs which are much worse you could waste your money on. Unfortunately for Centurion – and despite its array of extras – there’s a great deal far better also.

Film: 3/5

Special Features: 4/5

See this if you liked...
Gladiator and 300

Centurion will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray in all good stores on August 16th 2010.