Saturday, 12 July 2008

Journey To The Center Of The Earth 3D Review

Following in the footsteps of "Beowulf 3D" comes "Journey...", a family caper presented in Digital Real D, the first live action movie to be presented in the format. Starring Brendan Fraser as almost exactly the same character he played in The Mummy films (shabby, likable loser, quick to quip, made to mug) the film follows a relatively simple plot - cousin and uncle go on adventure, following clues and ideas from their long lost father/brother's ideas about Jules Verne's 1864 novel "A Journey to the Center of the Earth". It soon becomes apparent that perhaps Verne's book may be rooted in fact. With it's ideas about family values and balancing of humour, action and fantasy, it's a standard family adventure which is likely to enthrall those under 12, and nicely entertain those older teens and adults who will inevitably be dragged along.

First off, let's make something clear - there's no point in seeing this in 2D. That would be like watching Transformers on a tiny, tiny screen, or listening to metal with the sound turn way down - this film was MADE to be 3D. Also, there isn't really anything special at all about the film except for the 3D effects, and I feel that in 2D it would be, not exactly boring, but flat. In short, the 3D was incredible. Whilst regular films are a picture of what's going on, in 3D it's more like a window into the film, giving everything depth - however, thing's can also come out of that window. From the start, the audience is poked in the eye with the antennae of a bug, has toothpaste spat into their faces, and a yo-yo thrust into their faces. It's all brilliantly entertaining, leading to many instances when I found myself grinning from ear to ear in the most mundane of situations. It's these shots which would definitely feel out of place in the normal showings, and simultaneously make the 3D special. Also, whilst these "made for 3D" shots were great, they were not the moments that impressed me most. I found instead that the special format worked best for landscapes - a simple aerial shot of a mountain range was truly breathtaking, the crystal clarity of the special Real D glasses elevating the view from something relatively ordinary into something worthy of a genuine gasp. Similarly many of the views in the caves are great, the occasional stalagmite to the face receiving "oohs" from the audience.

The film itself is nothing special at all, really. Played out like King Kong for kids (erm... without the giant gorilla...), the magical land at the center of the Earth resembles a less threatening version of Skull Island, with razor-toothed fish, deadly plants and the odd T-Rex ambling about. And it's not just the setting that the film steals from other (better) films - a mine cart rollercoaster sequence? Temple of Doom. T-Rex running around? Jurassic Park. The estranged relationship between family members? War of the Worlds. Oh - and all of those happen to be Spielberg films. And this film is very much Spielberg-lite; perfect for those who aren't too fussy about what adventure they want to see, and are just bothered about being entertained. So, whilst the scenes aren't as good as they are in their "original" forms, they are still highly entertaining, especially in 3D. There are also a few moments of comedy (though a couple towards the end were unintentional), some visual jokes working brilliantly, contributing well to the film's family adventure feel.

Whilst there's nothing particularly wrong with the film, there always feels like there's something missing, scenes that should be totally thrilling merely making me sit back and enjoy. This could be due to the fact that I felt that I had seen it all before, though I'm sure that anyone under the age of 12 would think it's the best film ever. In conclusion, it's a diverting film merged to some amazing 3D effects, that will enthrall younger viewers and entertain any older teens and adults. If you've never seen anything in 3D before, it's definitely worth going - and don't expect any rubbishy green and red glasses. Here in the 21st century, 3D is almost a perfected art...

Entertainment Value: 3.5/5
Genre Value: 3/5
Style: 4/5
Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles Review

A new entry in the "DVD" category is kid's fantasy/action/horror "The Spiderwick Chronicles". When a single-parent family moves into a dead relative's house in the woods, the children find a book with a big warning on it saying "DO NOT OPEN". Before you can say abracadabra, goblins, trolls and other beasties are fighting their way into the house to capture the book, due to the many secrets and information contained within it...

This is a surprisingly good addition to the genre, which is quickly becoming tired with lacklustre efforts such as Eragon and the like. Better than Narnia without reaching the magic of the Potters, it's perfect for those over-eight's looking for a new fantasy series based on children's books. More enjoyable than Narnia, its homely feel (the kids rarely leave the house) is more intimate than the isolating scale of other genre entries, and whilst the CGI is not terrible, the occasionally dodgy creatures have a ropey charm.

Comparable to Jumanji, the story offers more scares than Potter and Narnia, the story turning into a home-invasion horror for kids. Intense scenes may prove too much for younger kids to handle, and the big baddie is pretty scary. Most of the acting is pretty good too, especially Freddie Highmore in a dual role as identical twins Jared and Simon. Seth Rogen competently voices his character, who offers most of the film's
comic relief as the children's snouted, goblin-y sidekick Hogsqueal.

So, for those with slightly older kids and an hour and a half to spare (a decent running time - the film feels no need to have a bloated length), this is a good way to entertain all of the family. Whilst it may not have the sparkle and magic of Potter, it has an exciting narrative that'll be sure to entertain those of all ages.

Entertainment Value: 3.5/5
Genre Value: 4/5
Style: 2/5
Overall Rating: 3/5

Monday, 30 June 2008

The Mist Review

There has been a rather good trend recently of horror films actually turning out to be pretty good - [.REC], The Orphanage, The Descent (OK, that one's a little older). Could it be that producing companies/distributors have realised that everyone hates those 15-rated 80's horror remakes? Let's hope so, because if films like The Mist keep coming out, I may well have to turn my attention back to the genre...
To keep it simple, The Mist is one of the best horror films I've ever seen. Whilst it may not reach the intensity of, say, "The Descent", or the filmic brilliance of "Alien", when it comes to serving up some insane scares with a great storyline and believable characters, The Mist knocks 'em dead. The story is easy to follow - bad storm, natural/supernatural mist closes in, people trapped in convenience store fight for their lives - and it's nice to see a film that manages to balance characterisation with lots of scary action really well. Of course, with Frank Darabont directing, this was never going to be yet another recycled horror debacle.

The monsters, all CGI (which is limited due to the budget - though you'll hardly care), are truly horrific. Following very closely, according to Alex, the descriptions of the creatures in Stephen King's novella, they provide many of the non-human scares, and amiably so. From giant spiders who shoot acidic webs (in an excellent, terrifically tense scene in a chemist's) to toothed tentacles belonging to an unseen 'thing' which rip off flesh disturbingly easily, we are shown enough to be scared, whilst giving the feeling that what we see is not even the worst of what is out there. The film follows a style similar to that of War of the Worlds, as we follow only one father's story of trying to protect his son, meaning that we never are shown everything, in keeping with the novella's occasional ambiguity. Also, it's nice to have something truly monstrous in a horror film - none of those silly malformed psycho-killers a la Jigsaw or Leatherface.

Not all of the horror is built up through the creatures, with tension being amped up in the film's true message. The development of the characters trapped in the shop is fantastic, slowly building up tension as attemps to escape the mist inevitably end tragically. It is also here that we encounter the film's greatest asset - Marcia Gay Harden (teehee!) - a religious nutjob, whose theories and speculations of imminent apocalypse at first seems crazy, but soons develops a following. She is truly creepy, her monologues always sending a shiver down the spine.

As with many King adaptations, whilst there are many conclusions, we are left to interpret alot for ourselves, making the viewing of the film more personal to whoever watches it. We are all able to read into it how much or how litte we want - those looking for intelligence, chills and meaning in a horror film will get it, and those who want to see a scary monster film about unnatural (?) fog will get exactly that. The whole thing leads up to a gut-wrenching final scene that may be too downbeat and shocking for some, but I personally loved - finally a Hollywood horror movie grows some serious balls. What happens is, in every way, the true meaning of horror. I implore you to see The Mist. It is brilliant.

Genre Value: 4/5
Entertainment Value: 4/5
Style: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4/5
The Mist is released nationwide in cinemas on Friday July 4th

Monday, 9 June 2008

Diary of the Dead Review

This is the first of a new category on "I Hate How Fake Hollywood Is..." of films that have recently come out or are soon to be released onto DVD.

Diary of the Dead is George A Romero's attempt at a cam-corder zombie movie. Being the daddy of zombie film directors, it seems that, whilst an innovative concept (despite it being pipped to the post by Cloverfield and [.REC]), Romero appears to be trying to get up with the times and get down with the kids. Before I go ahead and semi-rip into this film, it must be said that I used to LOVE zombie films before I got bored of the horror genre, and still have a like of them now.

Because I used to think zombies were the best thing ever in the entire world, I decided to watch Diary of the Dead, hoping it would live up to the recent [.REC], a frenetic exercise in pant-wetting film making. It had mixed reviews, but the documentary style intrigued me, as I was inevitably caught in the Cloverfield/camcorder movie pre-release hype. Some of Romero's fans have said that the style doesn't work, or that it was annoying, but the truth is that the style, which, like in Cloverfield and [.REC] brings a sense of immediacy to the film, is not actually the problem.

Romero's films have always been satirical of the various issues he felt needed to be addressed in society. In "Dawn...", there was his criticism of our materialistic nature, and in "Land..." he addressed Bush's America. Here in "Diary..." is Romero's view that the media is lying to us all, and it never gives the full picture, and that we're actually zombies to the media, and that we rely on it too much, and that blah-de-blah-de-blah. This would've worked well if it was a subtext that you could read into if you were interested, but the way it is tackled is downright preachy, to the effect that the audience feel's like its in a lecture instead of watching a zombie film. And it's not like anyone would argue if they were told that the media is biased. In feeling the need to tell us this, the script is riddled with terrible lines, which aren't delivered well by the sub-par cast, for instance Debra handing a camera to Jason in disgust, saying "Take this - it's too easy to use", or, in a ridiculous voiceover "The media were lying to us... trying to make it seem like everything was gonna be alright". It completely detracted from my enjoyment of the film, and always made me feel taken out of the story (which gets boring in it's linear "drive/stop off/kill zombies - rinse, repeat" style).

This isn't the only thing wrong with the film either. The characters are decidedly weak, and I never really cared about any of them. A couple seriously grated after a while, and the cameraman is decidedly annoying. When his friends ask why the hell he's filming everyone dying instead of actually helping, the audience can't help but readily agree with them, leading to many scenes where you wish you could slap him across the face and tell him that he's the one that needs to wake up - not us. Similarly, the group's stereotypical British teacher is infuriating. Talking drunkenly in one of the worst accents I've ever heard, I wanted this guy to die from the start. Not a great thing in a horror movie, really. Everything that furthers his stereotype, for example, when given a choice of weapons, he takes an archaic bow and arrow, cos, y'know he's an old stuffy Briddish guy, just made me hate him more and more. The only one I actually liked was the Amish guy, providing some well needed comedy to the film. He occasionally made me laugh out loud (the bit where he introduces himself is hilarious), and he provides one of the best zombie moments. Most of the other characters are so bland that they don't really bear writing about here.

All of this is a shame, because when it comes down to the zombie stuff, Romero is still the king. Whilst [.REC] gave us a fair few panic attacks when it came to running away from the 'infected', "Diary..." has some inspired ideas. I don't want to ruin much, but a hospital scene with a defibrillator and a zombie + acid = WOW moment show that he reigns supreme when it comes to thinking up awesome stuff to throw at the undead.

So basically, if you're a zombie fan, watch it for the variety of great moments. If you don't want to be lectured to at great length about the media, then you're best to avoid this one. But if you persevere, watch out for the zombie clown...

Genre Value: 2.5/5
Entertainment Value: 2/5
Style: 2/5
Overall Rating: 2/5

Diary of the Dead will be released on 1 and 2-Disc DVD on June 30th

Monday, 12 May 2008

Iron Man Review

And so we come to summer blockbuster season, an extravaganza of CGI-fuelled cinematic entertainment, a time to reflect on not how painstaking, but simply how AWESOME all these movies are that are coming out. Occasionally it's nice to get something like Batman Begins which will be filmically excellent as well as AWESOME, but let's face it - that doesn't really matter if you're being truly entertained. With last year being good but not living up to expectations, Iron Man is an AWESOME way to let any problems go and just be entertained for a couple of hours.

I can't remember a comic book movie ever being so much of a joy to watch. Sure, the Spidey films are ace, but there are always all of those serious bits where Peter chooses to mope over MJ, or things start to go wrong. X3 was bogged down in unnecessary death, and Fantastic Four is just generally much less than fantastic. Which is why I was delighted when I saw Iron Man - from start to finish, it's an absolute blast. The opening sequence is funny, exciting, and within 5 minutes had already made me jump. We're introduced to Tony Stark, billionaire playboy from the start, and from then on it doesn't let up.

Often the problem with comic franchise starters is that they suffer from "back story" syndrome. I'm happy to say that Iron Man does not suffer from this - partly because it at least offers a little bit of variety. It grows evermore wearisome when, as an audience, we are subjected to every possible scientific-experiment-gone-wrong scenario, and with Tony Stark not actually having super powers, it's nice to see a bit more variation upon the birth of a hero. Whilst not being overly political (oh, come on! It's a Marvel comic movie!), it's also nice to see a little bit of a modern "terrorism" twist. It's never explored on a deep level, but if you were expecting it to, you've gone to the wrong film, and should thus go home and rent Syriana or The Kingdom on DVD. Either way terrorism is always going to provide more of a threat than an evil black alien symbiote from outer-space.

One of the main reasons why the film does succeed so well is that Downey Jr. is so perfectly cast as Tony Stark. At the start, he's smarmy enough for you to like and admire him (and for you to feel a little bad about it), meaning that his escape from the terrorist cave is bound to put a big grin on any face. His personal reform is believable enough, whilst never getting too boring with serious monologues and overly talky bits. As soon as the bad boy's back, he's straight into his lab to start creating a super-AWESOME robotic suit which he can wear to fight crime, and destroy all the weapons that his captors have obtained, and plan to use. The idea of Stark's weapons being used against him is another nice touch in a narrative which is slightly smarter in comparison to, for example, the obviousness of X3 and Spider-Man 3, and the flat-out-we'll-tell-you-from-the-start awfulness in Fantastic Four. But i did only say slightly. He's also very funny - his comic timing is perfection, and the conversations with his animatronic helpers raises even more than a simple smile, leading into full laugh out loud territory. Whenever the action stops, there's always a joke or comment which makes you laugh or smile, meaning that the entertainment levels never hint at dropping.

It's obvious from the start that Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane is the big bad guy. His distressingly bald head (seriously - I can't believe that this is the same guy as The Dude...) might as well have EVIL tattooed on it in bold capitals. However, he turns in a fun performance, with enough sneer to boo at as a villain, and also a pretty good motive. Doctor Doom could learn some serious lessons from Stane in what's actually worth fighting for. Gwyneth Paltrow is decent enough, but, through no fault of her own, she doesn't actually have that much to do at all. Her small-scale romance with Stark is sweet enough, but isn't going to get any mums teary, and it doesn't really offer the same idea of vulnerability to the hero that MJ did to Peter Parker.

The action in the movie absolutely rules - it's AWESOME. The escape from the cave? AWESOME! The first flight in the Suit Mk II? Super-AWESOME! The military jet pursuit? AWESOME! Taking on the bad guys? AWESOME! In case I give anything away I'll stop there - but trust me, all the action scenes are incredibly enjoyable. It's entertainment in it's purest form - it makes you grin from ear to ear, before you realise this and try to hide it from those rather respectable members of society sitting either side of you (but who are probably too busy grinning themselves to realise).

In being so AWESOME, it's a shame that, filmically, it isn't as well made as some other comic adaptations. Batman Begins really set the bar at an incredible height, which Iron Man can't reach. The cinematography is pretty uninspired, with very few interesting shot types or techniques. However, as blockbuster cinema, this succeeds in so many ways. The CGI is basically perfect - the best I've seen since Transformers; a million miles away from the fairly terrible dark seekers in I Am Legend. I can't stress how entertaining this film is. Dismiss it as a bog-standard franchise starter at your peril...'s AWESOME.

Genre Value: 4.5/5
Entertainment Value: 4.5/5
Style: 2.5/5
Overall Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

[.REC] Review

Yup, it's time for another "found footage"-style movie. Well, it's already been about 3 weeks since the last one... Cloverfield was truly awesome - one of the best cinema experiences in recent years, and properly lived up to the hype. I never saw Diary of the Dead, which was unluckily pipped at the post by said monster movie to be the first "FF" movie of the year.

And now [.REC] comes along. Unfortunately, over here and in America it's always going to be seen as "that other handi-cam movie" - yet this was out in Spain last year. It has a brilliantly simple premise; late night TV presenter Angela and her camera-man Pedro are doing an article upon firefighters, they meet some firemen, and get called out to a building where there seems to have been a spot of bother... soon, they're trapped under quarantine, with talks of a virus outbreak.

I've seen a fair few zombie movies, from fun-but-trashy Resident Evil to the impressive 28 Days Later, but none have quite instilled terror into me the way that [.REC] did - simply put, it's terrifying. The format works well, and it's a nice touch to see characters telling Pedro to stop filming, giving an authenticity to the style. There's a decent build up throughout, with tension being amped and amped until... about 45 minutes in, everything explodes into action - running, screaming, shouting, blood, zombies, the whole shebang. By the way, that's all before the lights in the building stop working... At only 72 minutes long, it's an incredibly undiluted experience. There's no chance for filler, no time for a breather once it gets going, and this works heavily in it's favour. All action is decidedly frenzied and realistic, the camera getting shakier the more scared Pedro gets. It's all very authentic.The final 15 minutes or so of the film are real edge-of-your-seat, fist-in-mouth, hide-behind-the-cushion, ending with a horrific final shot that will linger in the memory for days to come.

There are a couple of weaknesses - the middle section of getting to know the people in the flat occasionally gets tiresome, and because the audience already knows that it's a zombie movie, the shouting of "what's going on?!" also begins to grate slightly.

But these are minor niggles in one of the best horror's I've seen, and certainly one of the scariest. Make sure you catch it this week (it's only on limited release) before the Americans go and balls it all up with the remake "Quarantine" due out later this year...

Genre Value: 4.5/5
Entertainment Value: 3.5/5
Style: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

I Am Legend Review

So, I've been quite late with this one. It's been out since boxing day, yet I only got around to finally seeing it last Saturday. The trailer was scary, intriguing, and ultimately promised a lot. All those shots of a deserted New York, the survival aspect in Smith's daily routine in contrast to the horrific howls and intense bursts of actions in the trailer's latter section... it's fair to say that I had really high hopes. It's definitely fair to say that I very much liked it, without being knocked out by it. But one of this film's qualities is that it gets the balance right. It takes itself quite seriously, but, hell, the end of the world is a pretty serious subject matter. It has a little bit of depth to it, but not so much as to distract itself from the fact that, at it's heart, it's a Will Smith thriller/action/horror mainstream blockbuster. Luckily it knows this, meaning that, tonally, the film hit the nail on the head.

The film opens strongly, a decent hunting sequence setting the scene and introducing us to Dr Robert Neville. The deserted streets provide intrigue [what happened? why?], with intermittant flashbacks giving snippets of information at opportune moments. We see Neville on his daily routine - "buying" DVDs, gathering corn, driving through the streets - and are given a true sense of how lonely this man must feel. The fact that the audience can feel for him after seeing him alone for about 2 days [with the wiping out of humanity happening three years ago] just goes to show how effective I Am Legend is at setting up its premise.

It must be said that Will Smith gives an extremely good performance, pretty much carrying the whole film single handedly. His sane-enough-to-feel-sorry-for, but mad-enough-to-be-a-little-bit-scared-of Doctor is one of the reasons why the film overall works well. His sense of longing and desperation to connect with someone other than his dog is utterly believable, and is a nice chance from his usual fast-talkin' black dude [as seen in 'I, Robot', 'Independance Day' and 'Men in Black' to name but a few]. And that's not to say there isn't humour - a Shrek-quoting scene brought a smile to my face [and a feeling of shame, as I felt myself quoting along with it in my head], and just the fact that he is Will Smith means that there are a couple of lighthearted moments. Given how many sci-fi films Smith has been in, this could have simply been a re-tread of his old performances.

The cinematography is also brilliant, especially for such a mainstream movie. Aerial shots of New York increase the feeling of isolation, and it's nice to see that these sort of movies can also be made quite stylistically.

Which is why it's such a shame about the CGI. Whilst far from being terrible, it wouldn't have hurt to use actors for the night crawlers, and it seems like it was done for the hell of it. Just because CG is available, sometimes it works best when used sparingly. The crawlers themselves are reasonably scary, fleeting glimpses in the first half giving us something to fear and look forward to in the latter stages. Some have criticised the science for the fact that a virus can turn humans into super-human vampire-esque creatures - but, hey, this is in a world where we've cured cancer; and was it ever going to be the most realistic movie ever made? A couple of other niggles that didn't really work were the Bob Marley references [a nice idea, but seemed a bit tagged-on], and the ending feels slightly rushed, and squanders some of the tension built up in the first half by over-using the crawlers.

However, this is still a very entertaining film. It's jumpy, dramatic and exciting. It successfully combines blockbuster movie-making with clever cinematography, and isn't afraid to ask questions, the most prominent of which is: if Smith is the last person truly alive, and is capturing and killing the crawlers in the day, who is the real monster?

Genre Value: 3.5/5
Entertainment Value: 4/5
Style: 4/5
Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

No Country For Old Men Review

I have something that I must confess. I have never, or at least had never seen a Coen Brothers film before. I blame this partly due to the fact that I cannot buy 18 DVDs or get into 18-rated films, and have thus been unable to purchase such desirables as Fargo and The Big Lebowski, though they are currently high on my list.

On Saturday, I took the plunge, and, parents in tow, we went to see No Country For Old Men, all those 5-Star reviews buzzing around my head. How could a this film be? There are so many things I have to say about this film that I'm going to make it obvious, rather than skilfully blend everything together in various paragraphs.

Firstly, the cinematography is outstanding. The direction is absolutely brilliant, shots that could have been dull and uninspiring are made all the more direct by placing the audience on the bonnet of cars, or using long shots to give an unsettling sense of the deserted wilderness that surrounds our 'hero'. The lack of music throughout further gives the view of isolation, and is highly effective in many of the more tense scenes: the audience can hear every creak and groan in every floor board, every whistle in the wind, every *ptung!* from Chigurgh's deranged silenced shotgun.

Secondly, the story is utterly compelling. We follow Llewelyn, as he hunts in the desert and stumbles across the bloody aftermath of a drug deal. Finding a case with $2 000 000 cash, but is subsequently followed by the psychopathic "clean-up" guy, who will stop at nothing to Llewelyn and get that cash. Following the horrific events portrayed is old sheriff Bell, played brilliantly by Tommy Lee Jones, unable to catch up with this "new" form of evil. As a thriller, it is brilliantly executed, and reportedly very close to the source novel by Cormack McCarthy, with many scenes causing the audience to gasp and hold their breath, waiting for the terrifying inevitability. One such scene is that in the motel, suffocating tension soaking the audience.

All of the performances are brilliant:
  • Josh Brolin is arrogant, vulnerable, and has questionable morals
  • Javier Bardem looks unbreakable and unpredictable
  • Tommy Lee Jones looks suitably tired and baffled
I found myself genuinely sorry for Llewelyn's wife, an innocent bystander caught in an awful mess through no fault of her own. Everyone does what their character is supposed to do, but far surpassing the urge to simply cruise.

No Country is also one of those films where for days after, you simply can't stop thinking about it. The final monologue has so much meaning and depth that I was staggered by the effect of it - an effect which I can't go into here, without giving away massive spoilers. I also loved the way that the audience is deceived; though he may not seem to be, Sheriff Bell is the main, most important chacrater here, the titular "old man". If you haven't already seen it, it's worthwhile to concentrate on his scenes to obtain the true meaning of the film, making it all the more special.

There are many questions asked by this film: Is this a new form of evil? Or has evil simply stayed the same, with Bell just becoming older and more tired? Is Anton [Javier Bardem] responsible for those deaths, or should he blame fate? There's just so much to think about. Much has been said about the "unsatisfying" ending, but those who concentrated found it an integral part of the story, and whilst those who prefer more conventional thrillers might see it as a cop-out, it has deeper meanings. And besides, this movie isn't conventional. It's so much more special than that. There's more I'd like to say about No Country, but I rather not ruin it for you. Needless to say, it is brilliant. Go and see it now, and be prepared to be blown away harder than any of Chigurgh's victims.

Entertainment Value: 4/5
Genre Value: 4/5
Style: 5/5
Overall rating: 4.5/5

We're Back

Whether you demanded it or not, we're back after a notable absence [due mainly to Christmas plans, exams, and pure laziness]. We've freshened the look, and will be posting new reviews and bits and pieces soon. We hope you like what we've done.