Thursday, 21 April 2011

Thor - Review

If there was one comic book title, amongst Marvel Comics' vast repertoire, near impossible to make a creditable feature out of, chances are Thor would be near the top of the list. With combining elements of old Nordic legend with the daftness of the Marvel universe, even in the realms of graphic novels it come across as a silly concept. Yet miraculously the character has stood the test of time with readers since his début in 1962.

Starring Chris Hemsworth - last seen through my eyes as Captain Kirk's dad in 2009's excellent Star Trek reboot - in the title role, Thor tells the tale of the god of thunder's banishment to Earth by his father, Odin as he soughs to discover the true meaning of being a hero worthy of his prestigious title. All the while, his devious brother Loki has plans of his own to take the crown of Thor's home-world, Asgard.

Ever since the film was announced, Thor was always going to be a risky property to adapt for Marvel, but personally I'm surprised with the results. It manages to create some visually epic and otherworldly imagery, highlights of course being Asgard itself and the homeworld of the villainous Frost Giants. Kenneth Branagh was also smart enough to not take the story he's adapting too seriously, creating some genuinely fun light hearted moments on top of some brilliant action pieces. In a world where The Dark Knight has pushed every comic book property to its most existentially gritty, Thor was a reminder the genre can still, heaven forbid, retain an element of honest fun - while without delving into the absurdity of failed attempts of the past such as, Daredevil and Fantastic Four.

Furthermore as a comic book geek who's never picked up a single issue of Thor over the years, the film was accessible enough to new fans without going to the monotonous effort of having to focus too much on a prolonged origin story like in Spider-Man, Iron Man or Batman Begins.

Despite the iffy accent he was sporting, Chris Hemsworth was a solid presence in the role of Thor. Enabling himself to shift gracefully from the arrogant, headstrong warrior we see at the start of the film to the wiser, more humble hero by the time the credits roll. Arguably the more interesting performance came from Tom Hiddleston as the villain of the piece, Loki, looking as though he borrowed a lot from Brad Dourif's slimy performance as Grima Wormtongue in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, albeit with much more command and presence such an antagonist requires.

Anthony Hopkins looked a bit awkward sporting all that heavy duty gear for the role of Odin, but played on his wise, fatherly role to adequate effect. Natalie Portman meanwhile as Thor's headstrong love interest, Jane Foster was, well, like nearly every other modern comic book film love interest. As always there's this attempt to create strong well rounded female characters, but ultimately the majority of them always seem to get a little weepy and teary eyed upon seeing the hero with his top off. It's sad but true. That aside she was still likeable enough to carry the performance and conjured good chemistry with Hemsworth during the more tender moments of the story set on Earth.

Didn't really see the point to Kat Jennings' role as Jane's assistant Darcy Phillips other than her deadpan demeanour and continuous references to Facebook must have been seen by the screenwriters as a way to ground the film. Thankfully it was used sparingly to not hinder the film's grand virtuoso story. Welcomed back as always was the return of Clark Gregg as SHEILD operative, Agent Coulson, last seen in Iron Man 1 and 2 - providing good humour and continuous references to the rest of this Marvel universe in the build up to next year's much anticipated Avengers film.

On the subject of the Avengers also look out for the well placed cameo from Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and the usual appearance of Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury - who is pretty much contracted to Marvel films for the rest of his career - after the credits roll.

Considering Branagh's history for adapting classic literature and Shakespearean plays, I was impressed at his grasp of handling this amount of sheer action while telling a fun, engaging story - even if it could've been about 10 minutes shorter. The 3D element was the same as every other feature I've seen since its return at the end of 2009. It's good at making tiny things floating about the screen look pretty and come to life, but lacked any real relevance in scenes driven by dialogue and story. Least it worked for the spectacular ending credits sequence, which looked like it was lifted straight from Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe. Yes I just championed the use of a closing credits sequence. Says it all really.

Final Thoughts
It might not offer anything new to an already prospering genre, but Kenneth Branagh should be praised for creating a visually extravagant and ultimately enjoyable story out of something which, in the wrong hands, could've easily been on par with past campy, disastrous, adaptations as Masters of the Universe and Batman and Robin. Chris Hemsworth leads the line well against his more seasoned and established co-stars in a truly likeable heroic performance. Though still falling short of the sub-genres best examples - such as The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2 - Thor still does a fun job of setting the audiences up for their Avengers film next year. Roll on Captain America...


Thor will be released throughout the UK on April 28th 2011. Will hit US theatres on May 6th 2011.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Belfast Film Festival - TT3D: Closer to the Edge

TT street racing, despite its continuing controversies, is embedded into the sporting culture of my home country, Northern Ireland. Every year avid bike fans will come from all over the world to spectate, participate and experience in the legendary North West 200. Yet shamefully it's not something I've personally ever been a huge fan of, mainly because I've never taken the time to really get to know the in's and out's the sport. So asking me to watch a documentary about the première event of the calender year, the Isle of Man TT could potentially be asking for trouble. Boy was I wrong...

The documentary, narrated by American actor and 30 Seconds to Mars frontman, Jared Leto centres mainly on the eccentric, maverick, racer, Guy Martin as he prepares in his own unique way for the biggest motorcycle event of the year. Through this the audience is taken through all the build up preparation, including the various backgrounds to each of the main racers including, John McGuinness, Michael Dunlop, Ian Hutchinson and Paul Dobbs.

The feature does a tremendous job of being accessible to people, such as myself, who have little knowledge of the sport in full detail. First time director, Richard de Aragues should be applauded for stocking the film with tonnes of emotion and nerve-shattering tension as well. By the time the credits rolled I felt like I had been on a total roller-coaster with these men. These larger than life characters congregating together in probably the best sporting film I've seen since Zinedine Zidane kicked a football for nearly 90 minutes to the sounds of Mogwai.

Guy Martin was an intriguing character, more so because I probably needed subtitles to understand what it was, he was saying throughout most of the film. In a way he was a curious soul, an ultimate underdog, an universal fan favourite because of his outlandish personality. Yet also coming across as a difficult person to work with, on the racecourse, due to his unpredictable nature. Due to this he was the perfect person to create a genuine cinematic experience out of something which could have easily been just a bog standard, middle of the road, documentary.

The most publicised aspect of TT street racing is one of its darkest most harrowing aspects also, and to the film's credit it never shys away from the harsh reality that these men essentially and willingly put their lives on the line every time they step onto that race track. Some of the images featured can be pretty hard hitting, such as seeing Guy Martin's bike blow-up in a fiery blaze, or watching Ian Hutchinson have his leg torn to pieces or even quite tragically witnessing the death of Paul Dobbs on the racetrack during 2010's event.

It's hard sitting in the cinema watching something like this, reminding yourself there is no controlled explosions or choreographed stunts or acting involved. This is real life and the lives affected by these men's reckless thrill seeking actions paint can quite a tragic picture. Yet the racers, when speaking about it, often remain philosophical about the risks. As Martin says in the closing moments, no one makes them do it, they want to do it and if you're scared something might happen, you're clearly in the wrong sport.

The film also does a great service of paying tribute to fallen heroes, such as one of the greatest sportsman to hail from my home country, the legendary Joey Dunlop who after achieving some amazing feats died in a charity race in July 2000. Which should be quite emotional scenes, along with the montage of his dearly departed brother, Robert - who suffered death on the race course a year later - for anyone local reading this review.

On a technical level TT3D was beautifully shot, and in most instances the 3D did largely work. My feelings have been made abundantly clear in past reviews of other films on the format but I think just the thought of the gimmick, this time round, might draw people in, who would never consider going to see this. And trust me when I say, you'll be better off for the experience.

Final Thoughts
TT3D: Closer to the Edge offers more than what it simply says on the poster. An action packed, emotionally draining and ultimately very harrowing insight into one of Britain's most controversial sports. Let yourself be taken on a ride with some truly likeable working-class sports stars, and you might even find yourself coming out as a fan because of it. I know I did.


TT3D was part of the 2011 Belfast Film Festival. It should be released across the UK, in selected theatres, from April 22nd 2011.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec - Review

Ah, Monsieur Luc Besson how I have missed your ways. After being in the fringes in recent years, exiling himself from the Hollywood spotlight, the French director has been quietly working away on features much closer to home such as the strange romantic fantasy, Angel-A and his low key animated trilogy, Arthur and the Invisibles. Never one short on ambition comes his first graphic novel adaptation in the form of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec - created by one of the grand masters of modern storytelling, Jacques Tardi.

You could lazily sum up Adele Blanc-Sec as essentially being Indiana Jones with an astonishingly beautiful woman as the heroine. Or simply Lara Croft with oodles more class and sex appeal. Either way, the film tells the tale of journalist come adventurer, Adele Blanc-Sec (Louise Bourgoin) as she goes from Paris to the ancient Egyptian pyramids and back again in order to cure her sick sister. All the while through a series of curious events involving psychic energy and spells of reanimation, a pterodactyl is hatched and reeks havoc on the citizens of Paris.

One thing Besson does wonderfully with this film, is still retaining a sense of the classic comic book visuals from Tardi's original illustrations. It's so lush and decadent while still staying relatively true to the period in history, the film is set in. But of course the story is carried mainly on the truly excellent performance of Louise Bourgoin, who I can only hope will go on to bigger and better things off the back of this.

Her character was lively, witty, passionate, intelligently poised as well as being downright sexy. Though in truth, Luc Besson has always managed to craft strong, well-rounded female characters in his films, from Natalie Portman's breakout role in Leon to Mila Jovovich in his polarising sci-fi masterpiece, The Fifth Element.

The supporting performances were over the top, truly engaging and just simply loads of good honest fun. Mathieu Amalric's devilishly devious villain of the piece, Dieuleveut seemed as though he owed a lot to Ronald Lacey's Arnold Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark. However it was a real shame his character couldn't have been involved more in the actual story - leaving it for a sequel perhaps?

While the likes of Gilles Lellouche, Phillip Nahon and Jean-Paul Rouve played your typical bumbling French archetypes in a similar sort of vein to characters often found the Pink Panther movies. Which in my books is rarely a bad thing. The only minor criticisms I would say is the film's special effects aren't quite to the standard of Hollywood's higher end features. Furthermore, it regrettably fails to hit the globe-trotting grandeur of the film's opening act in Egypt - coming off more like Night at the Museum towards the end than Indiana Jones. Nevertheless I'd happily watch it again.

Final Thoughts
Louise Bourgoin's eccentric and voluptuously playful performance combines beautifully with, Luc Besson's visually extravagant presentation. There is a few flaws in the story but sometimes pure enjoyment trumps such criticisms. One of the most pleasurable outings to the cinema I've had this year.


The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec is in selected cinemas across the UK from Friday April 15th 2011. European readers can get it on DVD/Blu-Ray now.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Red Riding Hood - Review

I wonder, rather ponderously, how this film might have been envisioned if the Twilight phenomenon hadn't swept into the hearts of millions of adolescent females across the world. Nevertheless, regardless of how I - or quite likely anyone reading this - really feels about the story of Edward Cullen and his charmless lover, Bella Swan, it's happened, it was financially bloody successful and unfortunately now's the time for the loosely inspired spin-offs.

In what can only be expected as the first of many fairy tales, to be given the Twilight treatment (a modified version of Snow White is in the works), comes Red Riding Hood starring, Amanda Seyfried in the title role. All the elements of the original fairy tale surprisingly remain in some shoehorned form or another, while expanding the mythology into a forbidden love story and half hearted horror tale involving werewolves and would-be witches - one scene involving the infamous lines "Oh grandma, what big eyes you have," etc is downright unnerving.

Firstly let's not lie, there was an awful lot of this film which I didn't enjoy. Mainly the acting, ham fisted, cringe worthy and verging into the stuff of Christmas pantomimes. Though not as emotionless or infinitely dislikeable as Kristen Stewart in Twlight, Amanda Seyfried doesn't quite have enough compelling personality or mystique about her to carry off the central role. She seemed to lack just as much innocence as she did lustful darkness, which you got the impression was needed, given the hints to the character's back story.

The stand out performance was perhaps - unsurprisingly - the excellent, Julie Christie in the role as the strangely sinister Grandmother, whose role in the story was ambiguously shrouded until the film's final revelations. The males of the tale fared much better in the overall scheme of things. Dare I say, I even found Gary Oldman's descent into religious lunacy quite amusing, sparking faint memories of his performance in Francis Ford Coppola's decadent Gothic masterpiece, Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Only a sci-fi geek such as I would have smiled at the utterly random, minuscule, roles given to Michael Shanks (Stargate: SG1) and Michael Hogan (Battlestar Galactica), which at least held my attention until their untimely ends at the hands of the big bad wolf.

Visually director, Catherine Hardwicke borrows a lot from the similar kind of grand cinematic shots, bleach bypasses and striking colour contrasts she used when directing the first Twilight film. And taking ego out of the equation over what she's directed previously, I actually quite like the slick Gothic style she uses in her films. Would be interesting to take her out of this comfort zone she's crafted for herself and give her a film with a decent script.

Despite the awful dialogue and the much maligned acting, the film did have enough suspense to keep you guessing the identity of the werewolf until such revelations occur. However, some of the more risqué moments were uncomfortably pushing the boundaries of that 12A rating it was given. The ending was also perhaps slightly drawn out and resulted in such daftness to match even Twilight, which ultimately is very much a shame. The more rockier moments of the soundtrack dampened the atmosphere, at the expense of perhaps some beautiful mystifying orchestral moments which could have been implored.

Final Thoughts
While the acting is largely pretty comedic and the film's conclusion is arguably shrouded in hypocrisy, Red Riding Hood is still an inventive, if predictable, take on the legendary fairytale. Visually striking and updated to such effect which will undoubtedly keep many young women under the age of 18 largely entertained for its entire running time. All the lads out there who could potentially be dragged to such an event can at least take solace in knowing it's more entertaining than Twilight. Well, at least my little sister enjoyed it...


Red Riding Hood is in cinemas from April 15th 2011.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Belfast Film Festival - Rubber

Who says originality is dead in cinema? One of the higher concepts released this year comes B-Movie thriller, Rubber from French director, Quentin Dupieux. There's no other way to really explain this other than the movie tells the tale of a sentient car tyre seemingly hell bent on killing every living thing it sees, from humans to wildlife, in and around a bleak Californian backdrop.

All the while we, inexplicably, have an audience, resembling all the standard stereotypes you'd generally find in any typical cinema, watching as the chaos unfolds from the sidelines. As the film progresses it's made clear, the only one who thinks this is some existential make-believe exercise is the mysterious cop, who introduces the film, played by Stephen Spinella.

Though Rubber is inventive, stylish and pretty well filmed, even involving a visually pleasing stop motion effect for the tyre's animation, it is perhaps just too nonsensical for its own good. It was like watching a nightmarish version of Albert Lamorisse's excellent, The Red Balloon just y'know with a Black Tyre. It also wasn't nearly as funny as it probably thought it was. One of my main problems however was the film felt a little patronising in parts - yes we get it, it's not suppose to make any bloody sense. I doubt however any audience who will likely see this in the selected cinemas it's released on would need reminded every five minutes.

You got the impression the director is a huge cinema fan, which is obviously an admirable quality for any young director, but I think the homages he was trying to pull off in Rubber made it more haphazard, proving almost detrimental to the film's success. There were obvious nods to Spielberg's works such as Jaws, little bit of the Coen Brothers' No Country For Old Men, even elements of The Twilight Zone. The main problem however being it felt more like an Aphex Twin music video than something that resembled engaging, clever, storytelling.

Final Thoughts
You can't help but feel, after Rubber ends, where the last 90 minutes of your life went. Have you been on drugs? Did you have a little too much to drink? No, you just watched a complete mess of a film which had no direction, no sense, no purpose and no comedic merit to even back up those shortcomings. Originality is one thing, quality is completely another.


Rubber was shown as part of the Belfast Film Festival. It should hit selected cinemas across the UK from April 8th 2011.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Source Code - Review

After dazzling audiences with probably one of the best début features in years, with the sci-fi love in, Moon, director Duncan Jones faces up to the painful reality of making the "difficult second film". Source Code tells the tale of Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he's sent into the past through a mysterious device known as - yes you guessed it - the Source Code. Through the machine he must figure out how to prevent a terrorist incident and a further attack on the city of Chicago - seemingly Hollywood's city of choice for filming everything these days - all in the time frame of eight minutes before starting all over again.

If you asked me to describe Source Code, it would be like watching Groundhog Day crossed with The Matrix with some Philip K Dick thrown in for good measure. However, that's barely even the half of it. Progressively the film's bigger mystery, unravels like a modern day Hitchcock thriller, beautifully carried by some terrific and, at times, even pretty heart-wrenching performances from Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga and Michelle Monaghan. I really don't want to give too much away because the twists are excellent and the more existential themes explored are intelligently done.

Jake Gyllenhaal particularly is certainly carving a real niche for himself as a bit of a everyman's hero, instantly likeable and overly sympathetic given his situation. Also the romance which brews with Michelle Monaghan works really well, harking back, at times, to Matt Damon and Emily Blunt's chemistry in last month's sci-fi romance, The Adjustment Bureau.

On a technical level, Jones managed to balance the tension of the brief time frame given to the main protagonist to solve this devious plot, with the ability of actually developing the character himself and the surrounding characters on the train masterfully - ending in a real upbeat note. The themes, Jones covers in Source Code actually resemble his début film at times, and also in his ability to use such confined sets in their fullest. Also you have to appreciate his use of the camera in the more action driven scenes, which is reminiscent of Christopher Nolan's work on Inception. Special mention must go to Chris Bacon's rather moving and emotional score, especially in the closing moments of the film.

On reflection Source Code would also work tremendously well as an entertaining, morally challenging, action-packed TV series. Like Quantum Leap with more explosions! Would be such an idea...

Final Thoughts
A tidy, tense, refreshing and absolutely bloody fantastic sci-fi thriller of the highest standards. Duncan Jones follows up his brilliant début with one of the best films of the year so far. Jake Gyllenhaal leads the line well once again, showing off his action credentials brilliantly. Can't wait to see it again - praise can't get much better than that, from me, I assure you.


Source Code is in cinemas everywhere now.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Belfast Film Festival - The Shore

Whenever I first started theFILMblog one of the things which got me off the ground was my extensive of the Belfast Film Festival in 2009. So it always raises a smile to think two years on I'm still plugging away and still marvelling at one of true highlights of the cultural calender in Northern Ireland.

There was perhaps no better way to kick off the 2011 Belfast Film Festival, for myself, than the world première of, globally acclaimed Northern Irish film-maker, Terry George's new short film, The Shore. After years of striking big in Hollywood with such excellent releases as the Oscar nominated In The Name of The Father and Hotel Rwanda, George returns to his home country for a genuinely heart-warming comedy drama.

The story revolves around Irishman, Jim Mahon (Ciaran Hinds) who fled the country to the USA, 25 years prior, after The Troubles kicked off in the province. Once he returns with his daughter by his side, he reunites with past friends and loved ones as well as facing various personal demons and moral dilemmas which haunted him from the moment he left.

Terry George does a brilliant job of letting you really engage with these, eccentric and all too familiar, characters in the all too brief 30 minute running time. However, I think with the central character especially, a lot of this almost magical wonder can be attributed to the deeply personal and down to earth performance of the brilliant Ciaran Hinds. A truly under-appreciated actor on the world stage today.

Furthermore, the film served as a brilliant demonstration of how the country has moved on in the past 30 years while still not forgetting its somewhat rich and chequered past which came before it. That said, never let history get in the way of a good story and with The Shore it truly didn't. From the moment the cameras rolled there was an element of intrigue and tension but in keeping with the spirit of the majority of people in Northern Ireland it there was a lot of knowing humour thrown into the mix also. Especially in a truly fantastic scene involving four of the characters running from a lady on a horse - who is mistaken for a dole officer - across a beach which kind of needs to be seen to be believed.

Despite George himself admitting as such in the Q&A which followed the film, you could instantly tell he invested a lot of himself and his own personal memories of the area into the film. This wasn't just a movie set in Northern Ireland, this was a film about Northern Ireland by a man who understands the country and that the majority of the people living here are just live for having a bit of craic (the word: "craic" to any readers out of town is our way of saying, "having a fun time"). Visually it was an extremely tidy feature, beautifully lush and extremely pleasurable to witness on screen.

Final Thoughts
Terry George returns home to give audiences a truly heart-warming tale of reuniting with past friends and loved ones, as well as facing up to personal woes and unfinished business before its too late. Only real complaint? It was too bloody short - yes being a short film that is kind of the point I know. Best Northern Irish film in a long time, once again demonstrating the immense amount of resources the country can give to cinema outside of features simply based on the Troubles and a ship which is famous for sinking on its maiden voyage. More please...


The Shore will quite likely not receive a full release in cinemas across the UK. However, if it happens to appear at a film festival near you in the coming year, I sincerely implore you to see it.