Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Review Round-Up | August 2011

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011)

A highly crafted summer blockbuster with enough brain and enough heart to push it from being a very good film to a great one. The narrative is compelling, successfully combining the pacy style of an action film and the epic feel of a story laced with gravitas. One or two elements feel somewhat lacking in development, such as the relationship between Franco and Pinto's characters, but these are easily to forgive as minor issues in a largely enjoyable and skilfully related story. The computer-generated effects are incredibly impressive, seamlessly interwoven with the live action elements to the point where I regularly forgot where the CGI elements ended and the "real" features began. Franco continues to impress as a likable and talented leading man, and the supporting cast also do well. It is Serkis, however, who deserves by far the highest praise for creating in Caesar the ape a believable and authentic animal performance as well as a strong protagonist with depth and sympathy.

Toys (1992)

Too long, as the plot is stretched out to fit the running time of a minute over two hours; there are several moments in the film which feel like filler, and occasionally the film strays over to the undesirable side of self-indulgence. The narrative also becomes patchy and confused at times. The film's moral message (to put it crudely: fun is good, war is bad) feels laid on at times and things get somewhat schmaltzy at several points. That said, there are great performances from all involved, and the vast majority of the jokes and comedy set pieces throughout are successful and clever without feeling self-aggrandising. The film is a visual treat as well, with scene after scene providing an imaginative treat for the eyes. Ultimately, Toys is flawed but enjoyable.


Face/Off (1997)

n incredible action film packed with stylish, adrenaline-fuelled fight sequences and set pieces throughout. Woo uses many of the hallmarks seen in his previous action movies, but makes them seem fresher and more electric than ever. The main contrivance of face-swapping is a risky plot device, but in the skilled hands of Woo it comes off brilliantly. The greatest credit, however, must go to Cage and Travolta for two outstanding performances throughout the film. The way in which both men inhabit both characters that they play is superb and a delight to watch. Both men manage to mimic each other's tics and traits whilst keeping the film firmly away from farce and parody. The skill of the two leads raises this from being a great film to an outstanding one. One of the defining, must-see action films of the 1990s.

Leaving Las Vegas (1997)

Strong performances from both Cage and Shue, and the genuine chemistry between them, provide the backbone for the film's success. Cage in particular balances extroversion and high emotion well, bringing to his character a pleasing balance of humour and sadness. The narrative is simple, and becomes somewhat hazy in the second half, which results in the film feeling unfocused at times. The film's slow pace throughout is also a double-edged sword: whilst it allows for the central relationship between Cage and Shue's characters to properly develop, it also made the film drag occasionally. Figgis' cinematography presents a paradoxically gritty yet artificial Las Vegas, giving the film's setting an unnervingly unpredictable quality rarely achieved in cinema. Ultimately a very good film, although be prepared for some emotionally punishing and unashamedly graphic scenes throughout.

The King's Speech (2010)

A highly polished film that exudes quality in every way. Hooper's direction and use of cinematography is refined with welcome splashes of originality, and the script is tight and charming. The film has a wonderful sense of authenticity, recreating the period in which it is set with panache, whilst at the same time delivering a sharp and fresh contemporary cinematic experience. At the core of the film are some outstanding performances from both Firth and Rush, bringing to life the relationship between the two men with authenticity, emotion and genuine humour. The supporting cast are also incredibly strong; Bonham Carter especially deserves high praise for a charming and heartfelt performance. A truly excellent piece of cinema that deserves the high accolades it has received.

Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

Like all the zombie movies it has spawned in the four decades since its release, the film is at its best when dealing not with the dead brought back to life, but with the very human stories that are created through those who are living through the horrific situation. The actions and reactions of the band of survivors thrown together through circumstance are compelling viewing and a masterful comment on human behaviour. Romero's direction is fantastic, with cinematography clearly inspired by Welles and Hitchcock and even matching their standard when at its very best. The film suffers from a middle act slower and less focused than its opening and closing sections, almost as if Romero felt the need to pad things out a little, and as such the television report sequences become a little tedious. The final act, however, gives the film a harrowing, punch-packing finale. Ultimately, an entertaining and effective horror film which has stood, and no doubt will continue to stand, the test of time incredibly well.

The Addams Family (1991)

Not only a film that brings back great memories of childhood enjoyment, but also one that, two decades on, has stood the test of time incredibly well. The script and style of the film timelessly and effortlessly parodies gothic horror as well as lampooning society and culture without locking the film into an early '90s time capsule. The main cast are incredibly strong and never miss a beat, with Anjelica Huston and the late Raul Julia deserving particular mention for a pair of flawless performances. The plot is somewhat simplistic and the narrative a little thin here and there, but this is pettifogging as what the film does right vastly outweighs anything it gets wrong. Clever, entertaining and very very funny.

Addams Family Values (1993)

Considered by many to be superior to the first film, for me when Values is at its best it outshines its predecessor, but it also manages to miss a few more beats than the original film. Its strengths are similar strengths to the first film - Julia and Huston are again perfect as Morticia and Gomez; Lloyd is given more time to truly shine as Fester than in the previous outing; Ricci as Wednesday is superb; and Cusack is a welcome addition bringing her reliable wackiness to the antagonist role. The script at its sharpest is even better than the first, but there are elements which begin to tire - whilst the summer camp subplot begins ingeniously it eventually becomes a little tedious, and the segment where baby Pubert (best baby name in film history?) suddenly becomes cute always feels somewhat tacked on with no real purpose other than to unnecessarily pad things out. That said, just like in the first film, there is a huge amount more here to like than dislike. Overall, this sits well with the original to form a pair of excellent comedies.

Westworld (1973)

Sluggish pacing and decidedly unimpressive direction from Crichton hamper the telling of what is a genuinely excellent story. The first hour gets gradually more tedious as no character receives enough development, and whilst Benjamin and Brolin's performances are fine, they never make either of their characters sufficiently memorable. It is Brynner who shines here with a chilling performance throughout that, upon expansion during the film's second half, elevates the final act far above what has preceded it. It is clear to see that Westworld is an important entry into the action sci-fi canon, with obvious influence on future films including Terminator and Jurassic Park; as a film in its own right, whilst this is undoubtedly enjoyable it is also unforgivably flawed.

The Super Mario Bros. (1993)

For a video game fan, there is fun to be had in spotting the homages to the original video games; it is pitiful, however, that you can count them on one hand. Simply put, the film is dull and unimaginative, wasting one opportunity after another. Hoskins and Hopper phone in their performances, clearly under no illusions that what they are creating is worthwhile, and it's a wonder that Leguizamo managed to forge a respectable career after debuting in this turkey. The film presents a mix of action and fantasy which never sit comfortably together throughout. The film has retained a modicum of kitsch and cult value which save it from being entirely unwatchable, but with far better options in the video game adaption and action fantasy camps, there's very little point in doing so.

The Bourne Identity (2002)

Successfully gels the action, mystery and thriller genres with style and seamless excellence. Damon brings the right balance of gritty authenticity and action-hero audicity, making Bourne a believable yet fittingly enigmatic protagonist. The story is solid, and the action set pieces are consistently adrenaline-charged and entertaining with some fresh ideas presented throughout. The supporting cast are solid, with particularly strong performances from Cooper and Potente, as well as Stiles, Owen and Cox bringing pleasing quality to relatively minor roles and adding strength to the film as a whole. Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable and well made action movie that rightfully left its mark on the action and spy genres giving a somewhat stale subcategory within film a welcome reboot.

Charlotte's Web (2006)

Eleven years after Babe, the premise of a live-action pig and other animals talking with human voices is decidedly unspectacular. The voice cast is impressive on paper, and it's fun to spot who each animal is voiced for about ten minutes after the animals start talking, but it's clear that those involved are here for the pay packet and not to bring the characters to life. The film does not do justice to the children's novel from which it is adapted, losing it's charm and feeling decidedly sanitised. Fanning as the young farmer's daughter is fine, but the rest of the cast are forgettable. Ultimately a distinctly middle-of-the-road children's film.

Scream 2 (1997)

Slightly better than the original, with the returning characters benefiting from the depth already established in the first film, and the cast as a whole giving a stronger performance. The self-referential postmodern style is crafted even better than in the first film, with the discussion of the nature of film sequels being a particular highlight. Whilst the film famously suffered from internet script leaks resulting in last-minute rewrites, the moments of tension and fear are just as finely crafted as in the original, and the story has enough surprises and twists to keep you on your toes and guessing right until the end. Overall very enjoyable and well made.

Unbreakable (2000)

Forever destined to be compared to The Sixth Sense, overall this is not as good as Shyamalan's breakout masterpiece but is still an excellent piece of cinema. The story is compelling, if a little slow at points, and the performances from Willis and Jackson are fantastic throughout. Shyamalan demonstrates sharp direction with clever use of and reference to comic book style and mythology. Whilst the ending is perhaps somewhat anticlimactic, it also grounds the film - and the audience - into the leaden reality crafted by the director throughout the majority of the film. Ultimately compelling and well made.

Scream 3 (2000)

A considerable step down from the first two films in pretty much every way. The franchise now feels tired, with the scares pedestrian and the action at times cartoonish. The story, whilst keeping you guessing, is ho-hum overall. The postmodern film references are at times still clever, but just as often feel laid on too thick and very contrived with characters and situations seemingly dropped in and out of the film without any thought or build-up. Ultimately, whilst this remains in the same tradition as the first films, it never hits the relative highs previously seen in the franchise and at times even becomes somewhat clichéd - a cardinal sin for a series with its tongue supposedly firmly in its cheek.

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

Greengrass is the perfect choice to continue the Bourne franchise, picking up the baton from Liman and taking the story further and darker with a satisfyingly more complex feel. Damon fits back into the character of Bourne with ease, taking the character to new heights stretching both his human and fantastical sides pleasingly. The action becomes even more impressive; Greengrass' incredibly authentic feel brings an energy to the set pieces, and the ideas for the action sequences are ever more impressive as the narrative fizzes along. Whilst his camerawork is at times bewildering in its speed, barely keeping up with what's going on at times, this only serves to enhance the way in which the story is related. Essentially, this film takes everything that was great about The Bourne Identity and does it just as well or, in several cases, even better.

The Queen (2006)

The performances from the cast as a whole are the key to a large part of the film's success. Mirren as Elizabeth II creates a multi-dimensional and sympathetic character, exuding both the grandeur of a reigning monarch and the genuine humanity of a family matriarch in a time of sadness and crisis. Sheen also deserves praise for a balanced and compelling portrayal of Tony Blair that rarely forces you into viewing him in one narrow light. Cromwell also deserves high praise for his role as Prince Philip, again bringing humanity to his portrayal of an often lampooned and caricatured figure. The film at times lacks flair, and is often cinematographically unspectacular. The use throughout of genuine news footage woven into the dramatised narrative works well, however. Ultimately an enjoyable and worthwhile film.

Monsters (2010)

A solid, well made and engaging film that is all the more impressive when the relatively tiny budget and professional cast of only two actors is taken into account. The effects are original and the tension and scares throughout are palpable and skilfully crafted. McNairy's Andrew comes across as a genuinely unlikely hero, and it is impressive that, for a character who at times is clearly not a particularly nice person, he gives a sympathetic and compelling portrayal throughout the film. Able also does well as Samantha, pleasingly adding layers to her character as the film. The narrative offers both a compelling science-fiction story and a pleasingly subtle comment upon contemporary social and political issues. Whilst the film slows down a little too much at the very end, overall this presents a modern, clever and restrained take on the extra-terrestrial invasion story which kept me hooked from start to finish.

No comments: