Sunday, 15 May 2011

Review Round-Up | April 2011

Wanted (2008)

A film that puts style firmly over substance all the way through. Bekmambetov's envisioning style of action that worked so brilliantly in both Night Watch and Day Watch again works well here, although at times it feels as though he's been pushed to emulate the style of others (particularly the Wachowskis) rather than truly put his own stamp upon this. That said, the style is more or less all there is to enjoy here. McAvoy fails to cut it as either whining office worker or superhuman assassin with a patchy performance throughout; Jolie is on action autopilot; and Freeman is clearly fully aware that the script he's spouting is lifeless drivel with a phoned in and forgettable turn. A couple of action disaster sequences of which Roland Emmerich would be proud are somewhat impressive, but the plot and concept riddled with inconsistencies coupled with a flat script leave this as a wholly unsatisfying film.

The Elephant Man (1980)

In this, his second feature film, Lynch as director again brings his unique cinematic style seen in Eraserhead to this film, and with much more success. The director's invasive use of sound is captivating, and the urban gothic version of Victorian London he creates is the perfect setting for the story Lynch is telling. Hurt gives an unforgettable performance as John Merrick, bringing both class and sensitivity to his portrayal of the infamous disfigured man. Taking into consideration how little of Hurt's actual face is available to him throughout the film under the heavy make up and prosthetics, the range and emotion that he is able to put across is quite astounding. The technical side of transforming Hurt into Merrick is also captivatingly real, leaving it no surprise that the film led to the creation and inaugural presentation of the Oscar for best Hopkins opposite him is just as superb as Frederick Treves, giving an understated and quietly emotional turn; the scenes between Merrick and Treves are touching and genuine, whilst at the same time managing to stay away from becoming overly sentimental. Occasionally a little slow, but overall an excellent piece of cinema.

U.S. Marshals (1997)

Inferior to its precursor The Fugitive, but still enjoyable nonetheless. Jones never misses a beat, stepping back into the character of Marshal Sam Gerard as easily as you would a comfortable pair of shoes, playing him superbly with the same cocky gruffness as in the first film. Snipes, however, never comes close to Harrison Ford's wrongly accused runaway; he struggles with scenes in which his character has to show any emotion other than anger, although he comes across a lot better during the film's action sequences. Downey Jr. does well playing against Jones, and provides enough ambiguity in his allegiances to keep his character interesting; he does lose some momentum in the final act however. The story has several ideas rehashed from the first film, but there's enough new material here to make it a worthwhile exercise. That said, the film is about twenty minutes too long, with some sections dragging and an ending that feels somewhat rushed. Overall, a fairly decent actioner which gains an extra half star because Tommy Lee Jones is in it.

American: The Bill Hicks Story (2011)

Hicks is one of the finest comedy minds of all time. As a performer he was never anything less than consummate, and this is clear through the presentation of the recordings of his stand up throughout. Unfortunately, the film as a documentary is much less successful than its subject. The photographic animation used for the vast majority of the film is effective in places, but becomes pedestrian, repetitive and even somewhat patronising in parts (do we really need to see a photo-animated Hicks sitting in the back of a black cab to illustrate him travelling to London?). The film moves very quickly between speakers over the animation without showing the speakers' faces or a caption introducing them, and this becomes increasingly confusing especially as many of the people Hicks grew up with all have a very similar Houston accent. Whilst I am a huge fan of Hicks, I found the film to be too biased towards worshipping the man rather than taking a critical eye at certain points (Hicks' alcoholism is given a balanced view, but his drug-taking seems almost entirely to be presented as a positive thing). Ultimately, Harlock as director never makes his aim clear, his film coming across as technically pedestrian and unremarkable. Hicks' performances deserve top marks; Harlock's documentary as a film deserves less than half, so things ultimately even out somewhere in the middle. Ultimately, American is worth watching as an introduction to Hicks' work and to see footage of his performances from the very start of his career to the very end, but if it's Hicks as a comedian you're after, you'd be better off buying a full recording of one of his live shows.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

One of the most stylish and finely crafted films of recent years. The plot is incredibly simple, which works perfectly as the film moves from one beautifully extravagant fight sequence to the next, but can make things seem to lack focus during the more story-driven sections of the film. Wright's direction is some of the most confident I can remember seeing, bringing many of his brilliant touches seen in Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz to this film. He grabs hold of the fantasy video game style with both hands and commits to it fully, which leads to an incredibly pleasing feel to the film overall as well as some gloriously detailed touches that hit their mark every time. The performances from all involved are very strong, with several of the evil exes in particular feeling satisfyingly fleshed out after only a short amount of screen time. Ultimately a very enjoyable and well made film that will almost certainly only get better with age.

Brassed Off (1996)

A modern classic of British cinema, this is packed with strong performances from all involved - Pete Postlethwaite is predictably flawless, Stephen Tompkinson gives the performance of his career, and Ewan McGregor shows how much substance he could bring to roles before transferring to Hollywood. The script is charming and tight, giving the film a gritty yet comfortable authenticity throughout. The story is poignant, compelling and funny in the right measure. And whether you're a fan of brass bands or not, the way in which the music is showcased throughout the film is fantastic. Ultimately a thoroughly enjoyable and well-made piece of cinema.

The Game (1997)

A moody thriller which at times becomes pleasingly dark. Douglas does well in the lead role, and the supporting cast is generally strong. Fincher's direction is tight with a polished and atmospheric feel throughout. The story is ambitious, and at times is pleasingly cerebral; Fincher clearly enjoys leading the audience down one path, only to then reveal things to be in a differently place altogether. Ultimately, however, the film strains under its own complexities, and occasionally feels sluggish in its execution; the opening act particularly feels unfortunately clunky at times. This is undoubtedly an enjoyable film overall with some pleasingly tense scenes throughout but, when all is said and done, this never shows Fincher at his best.

Dawn Of The Dead (2004)

Simply put, this is enjoyable zombie fare all the way through. The performances are as good as they need to be, and the simplistic plot, whilst feeling somewhat thin in several places, allows for a satisfying amount of horror scenes. The action gets going pretty much straight away, showing an understanding of what the audience want and getting straight to it. Scenes dotted here and there have tongue pleasingly at least partway in cheek, ensuring the film doesn't merely stay on the same well-worn note. If you're looking for innovative cinema that challenges both its audience and the boundaries of its genre, look elsewhere; if you want a pleasing and entertaining addition to the zombie genre, this is for you.

Mary Poppins (1964)

A true family classic that has aged very well. Julie Andrews is superb as the eponymous magical nanny, and Dick Van Dyke is endlessly enjoyable even with his infamous questionable cockney accent. However, it is David Tomlinson, often overlooked, who provides the perfect counterbalance to Andrews; he never misses a beat as the self-important George Banks, providing a wonderful blend of caricature and authenticity to create a character of both simplicity and depth. The music throughout is superb, with many tunes and lyrics that have since embedded themselves in Western social consciousness. The film itself showcases a huge variety of cinematography from glorious multicoloured scenes mixing live action and top notch Disney animation, to darker, more menacing scenes of early 20th Century London. It could be argued that the film is a little too long, but engross yourself in the wonderful world created and it's unlikely you'll even notice the time passing. A cinematic triumph, and a film that will no doubt remain a cinematic treasure for decades to come.

Mulholland Drive (2001)

This is one of the trickiest reviews I've ever had to write: how do you rate a film that, whilst watching, you enjoyed in part but in all honesty had difficulty understanding large portions of? A film which you then did some post-viewing research on, understood a lot more (but certainly not entirely), and retrospectively enjoyed it more as a result? Well, I'm going to try. Lynch's cinematography is as top notch as ever, with his trademark uncomfortable and dreamlike quality present throughout, although here I felt it was more subtle and refined than in his earlier work to the film's benefit. The whole cast are solid, with Naomi Watts in particular giving a fantastic performance ranging from darkly comic to devastatingly emotional. Lynch's unconventional narrative structure, surrealist outlook and refusal to hold the audience's hand through the story at any point is undoubtedly brave, bold and striking film-making. It does however lead to several points within the film where I had almost entirely no idea what I was watching or how it related to the story, so much so that I became frustrated with the film at two or three points throughout. As stated previously, after reading around the film after I had watched it, I have a clearer idea of how many previously confusing elements fit into the film's overall story and themes, and I'm fairly certain I will appreciate the film as a whole much more on a second viewing. I have a strong feeling that when I watch Mulholland Drive for a second time I will want to review it again giving it a higher score. For now, I feel that the score I have awarded it reflects my view of the film after seeing it just once.

1 comment:

Film Intel said...

Of those that I've seen from this list, I'm pretty much entirely with you.

I don't like NIGHTWATCH or DAYWATCH (Bekmambetov managed to ruin two perfectly decent books) and WANTED didn't break that streak. It's unfocussed and messy and the narration is as un-needed and overly explanatory as it often is in other, better, films. I've never watched McAvoy in a film without feeling a slight twinge of annoyance. I can't explain this through any degree of logical extrapolation.

U.S. MARSHALS is absolutely the kind of quality action thriller it needs to be. I've watched THE FUGITIVE fairly recently and it has a third act dip where MARSHALS keeps going. They might be closer in terms of quality than a lot of people would want to believe.

THE GAME is the only rating I'd perhaps quibble with (it's under-appreciated and the mastery of keeping you on wobbly footing until the very final frames shouldn't be underestimated) and in terms of DAWN OF THE DEAD: it's fashionable to knock Zack Snyder but it's difficult to take this away from him - how many other horror remakes can you call 'pleasing and entertaining'.

MARY POPPINS is ageless brilliance.