Archive for April, 2012

Lockout

Posted: April 26, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger. Starring Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace

Every once in a while a film comes along that moves you, that touches your soul and makes you a better person, which speaks to you of the universe’s hidden truths.

Lockout is not that film.

It’s the future (a fairly un-futuristic future it has to be said, looking more like now but with added spaceships) and MS1 is the world’s most secure prison because A)  it’s in space, and B) the prisoners are all in statis.

The President’s daughter (Maggie Grace) is on a visit to investigate human rights violations and as part of this she has them wake up one of the prisoners. For reasons that are never made clear they choose to wake up the most psycho prisoner they have.

What could possibly go wrong eh?

Before you can say “weren’t you in Lost?” the prisoners have taken over the station and have the President’s daughter hostage.

With a major assault out of the question the CIA decide to send a lone operative to infiltrate the prison, get past the 500 inmates and rescue the girl. The man they choose for the job is disgraced former agent Snow (Guy Pearce) a man so sardonic he makes James Bond, Snake Plissken and most characters played by Bruce Willis look like humourless automatons.

Obviously Snow doesn’t want to go, but he isn’t given much of a choice in the matter.

If this sounds unoriginal it’s because it is. If it sounds terrible it’s because it is.

It’s also almost ridiculously enjoyable.

For a start it has no pretensions about being anything other than what it is: Escape from New York, in space! It does what it says on the tin, and these days that’s kinda refreshing. Add into this a wonderful performance from Guy Pearce, who it seems was born to play a wise cracking action hero (who knew!) a script that features so many wisecracks I can only imagine the producers kidnapped Shane Black…then cloned him half a dozen times,  Maggie Grace proving yet again that she’s more than just a pretty face, and  Vincent Regan and  Joseph Gilgun as a great pair of villains, although Gilgun does appear to have been snatched from a homeless shelter in Glasgow…

So yes it’s unoriginal, yes the editing is odd and the effects variable and yes the story doesn’t always make sense, but you know what, it’s entertaining!

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The Cabin in the Woods

Posted: April 18, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by Drew Goddard. Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz.

Originally filmed in 2009 it’s taken this collaboration between Drew (Cloverfield) Goddard and Joss (Buffy) Whedon three years to reach the big screen due to rights issues, and as such the hype has had a long time to build, mainly it must be said down to the cult (somewhat deserved) around Whedon.

The premise seems simple, five teens go to a remote cabin in the woods and…well like the tagline says, you think you know the story.

You really don’t, so I’ll try and avoid spoilers, although in fairness it becomes clear almost immediately that things are not what they seen.

For me this is a tale of two films, one is very good, the other not so much. As a horror/comedy this works pretty well, although the comedy works better than the horror. Whedon and Goddard clearly know their horror films, and their horror tropes, and the film plays with our expectations, often with humorous results, when it comes to being scary, however ,the film is less successful. It is possible to do both, Scream was funny but also contained some truly tense moments, and sadly those are lacking here.

It is very funny though, that can’t be stressed too much, although only to a point, because perhaps two thirds of the way through things get decidedly bonkers. Now I’m a fan of sci-fi and horror, I can suspend my disbelief, but unfortunately preposterous only works if it’s consistent, and the more thought you give to the scenario we’re faced with the less sense it makes, which is a shame as there’s a neat idea or two at play here, unfortunately it feels like they came up with some cool ideas and only then tried to write a story around them, and it shows because they don’t hang together.

Still it deserves kudos for trying to do something different, even if that something different involves taking well known ingredients and mixing them up in a slightly different way (I say slightly because at heart this is just a really long episode of Buffy with a lot more blood) . It’s funny and well cast, and maybe I’ll like it better with a second viewing…of course maybe I’ll like it less too. Just sneaks a 7/10

The Hunger Games

Posted: April 11, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by Gary Ross, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland.

There’s a Pulp Fiction derived joke doing the rounds; what do they call the Hunger Games in Paris? A Battle Royale with Cheese…It’s a trifle unfair, but there is some substance behind it.

In a future dystopian America an uprising by the outlying districts resulted in a brutal crackdown by the state, and as punishment each of the 12 districts must send one male and one female between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in the annual Hunger Games, a televised gladiatorial contest which only one will survive. District 12’s Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take the place of her younger sister and soon she and Peeter, the male tribute, are whisked away to the capital where former District 12 champion (the always brilliant Woody Harrelson) tries to teach them both tricks that will keep them alive.

 This was actually a tough film to review because there is a lot to like about it, unfortunately there are a lot of things that bring it down.

The story itself isn’t very original, and yes Battle Royale ploughed similar ground, but the notion of people fighting to the death for others’ entertainment goes back much further. What The Hunger Games does differently is put a little spin on an age old story, with the hero actually a heroine, and with Peeter (the very likeable Hucherson) filling the damsel in distress role.

Jennifer Lawrence is the best thing about the film, she’s superb in making us feel for Katniss (her trembling  fear just before the games start is exceptional) and in making it believable that she can survive as well as she does. She’s ably backed up by a good cast.

Given the strong performances and solid direction it’s just a shame that much of the rest of the film doesn’t rise to the occasion. As I’ve said, the story isn’t very original, but that’s fine as long as you do something different with it, but unfortunately the film doesn’t (beyond the aforementioned reversal of gender roles) do anything remotely surprising. You can quite easily guess what’s going to happen to the other contestants. Early on they split into distinct groups, the “goodies” and the “baddies” and precious few are anything beyond two dimensional, and so it’s hard to feel much sympathy when they die (assuming you can even tell some of them apart).

The grisliest deaths are reserved for the “baddies” and too many deaths occur off camera, and herein lies the films biggest problem, it’s too bloodless, too clean. The moment after the games start there’s a mass fight and many of the contestants are butchered almost immediately, it should be a harrowing scene, but thanks to the desire for a 12A certificate it comes off more like the A-Team, everyone’s using knives and swords yet none have so much as a drop of blood on them.

I appreciate it’s based on a Young Adult novel, and that it’s aimed at a particular age group, and I’m not suggesting that I wanted a bloodbath (and you could argue that Battle Royale, for example, is too grisly), but I think it needed to show more of the horror of the games, because unfortunately it’s just too sanitised.

Despite this, despite the weak resolution, the predictability of the story and the numerous  happy contrivances; along with world building that seems to have been done on the back of a fag packet, it’s an enjoyable film, and despite its long running time I was never bored, never anything but engrossed in the story. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t a touch edgier, a bit more unpredictable, because for a while there I was going to rate this higher.  7/10

The Awakening

Posted: April 2, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by Nick Murphy, starring Rebecca Hall, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton.

I really wanted to see this film when it came out last year, but unfortunately it came and went within the space of about a week and so I missed it. Now released on DVD I took the opportunity to rent it so I could finally take a look.

It’s 1921, three years after the end of the First World War and Spanish Flu, and a time when people are more interested in the afterlife than ever, and Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is a noted debunker of mediums, ghosts and all manner of other supernatural chicanery.

Florence doesn’t believe in ghosts, but it’s clear she wants to. After helping the police to arrest a bogus swami, she’s approached by Robert (Dominic West) a teacher at a remote boarding school. He wants her to investigate the supposed ghost of a boy that’s haunting the school, a ghost that may have already scared one of the pupils to death.

Florence agrees, and soon after her arrival she thinks she’s solved the mystery, but when most of the boys head home for the holidays things take a dark turn, and suddenly Florence has to deal with the fact that everything she believes in might be wrong.

Like the Woman in Black this is a good old fashioned haunted house story. It doesn’t rely on special effects, or excessive gore, and is all the more chilling for it. There are plenty of creepy moments, and in particular one stand out scene that sent shivers down my spine relies on nothing more than a doll’s house.

I had heard that how much you enjoyed the film depended on your suspension of disbelief at the end, and this had worried me, but all I’ll say is that the twist isn’t anywhere near as crass as I was expecting after all the hoo-hah. Is it a stretch, perhaps, but plenty of classic films pull similar reveals, and we are dealing with the supernatural here.

The story is good and the direction crisp. Hall makes for an effective heroine and acts her socks off in places to convince us she’s really terrified. West is equally good as the damaged veteran of a war who’s seen horrors that were all too real.

The ending perhaps does disappoint after what’s gone before it, not majorly but you might have expected something more, but as is so often the case with a haunted house film, with explanation comes disappointment, which is perhaps why the Haunting remains my favourite of the genre, because the supernatural isn’t quantified, and there are no answers in neat little boxes.

Not perfect then, but a damn fine effort and worth a hundred Saws. 7/10