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...

...so 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.