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Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Mechanic

Starting off the weekend early with Jason Statham and my review of his latest action flick, The Mechanic.


From Channel24.co.za (Originally posted 31 March 2011)




What it's about

A remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson film,The Mechanic stars Jason Statham as an elite assassin who, after being assigned to kill his mentor, suddenly finds himself facing the reality of who he really works for – all the while taking on his mentor's son as an apprentice hit man.


What we thought

At first glance, The Mechanic seems to be exactly the kind of film that Jason Statham made his name on: a high octane action film, filled to the gills with insane stunt work, a revenge-driven plot and a boatload of enemies for “The Stath” to dispatch with as violently as possible. However, to its detriment or, depending on your own sensibilities, to its benefit, the film is much leaner and meaner than the wonderful, over-the-top lunacy of something like Crank 2

Statham is probably the absolute best non-Asian action star since the heydays of Stallone, Willis, Schwarzenegger and – going a bit further back but more pertinent in this case – Charles Bronson. He probably won't follow Bruce Willis into the realms of proper acting in movies that are about more than skull-crushing violence and massive explosions but action stars don't come more charismatic and more oddly likeable than Jason Statham. And that he always sticks to his gruff Britishness, no matter the locale of the film, only makes him all the more endearing.


More than anything else, though – more even than his appearances in the absolute worst ofGuy Ritchie's later films – The Mechanic is going to go down as the film that puts Statham's likeability most to the test. A large part of what has always made Statham such a great screen presence is his sense of humour. This is a guy who never fails to provide a good laugh even as he kicks in the head of whichever unfortunate baddie happens to be on screen with him at the same time. Sometimes the laughs come through actual wit but, more often and no less impressively, they come through his willingness to both poke fun at himself and to appear in films that are so far off the reservation that it's impossible not to laugh your ass of at them.Crank 2 is definitely the key text here. Remember that? A bunch of good for nothing gangsters stole Jason Statham's heart – literally! - and he will stop at nothing to get it back! Now that, right there, is vintage Statham.

               
In The Mechanic, however, there is none of that tasteless but very funny extreme mindlessness. Statham plays an unsympathetic hit man whose only real redeeming quality is that his enemies are even worse. There is no glint in the eyes here, no tongue placed firmly in cheek. This is Jason Statham leaving most of his swagger behind and going for the simple, nuts and bolts of a violent man looking for revenge.


The result isn't bad, mind you. It's a slimmed-down, gritty revenge thriller with exactly the sort of twists and turns you would expect from this sort of film. It's solidly directed, the script is bare but effective and the action comes fast and furious. And Statham is perfectly adequate in the lead role. It's just that when forced to choose between a Jason Statham action movie and an action movie that happens to star Jason Statham, I would go for the former every time.  



Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Led Zeppelin 1

I've never been a big Led Zeppelin fan, to be honest and I'm still not really. Hell, I actually like the last two albums that Robert Plant put out - both Americana albums, one with Alison Krauss - more than almost the entirety of Led Zep's catalog. That said, though, there were certainly a good band and they had a bunch of very good songs but the only had one truly great - from beginning to end great - album. And oddly enough, it was their first. I haven't listened to the entirety of Led Zeppelin 1 for ages but there's no doubt: it's a terrific record.


From epinions.com (Originally posted 15 August 2005)     




From my admittedly limited exposure to the band, I’ve come to the conclusion that Led Zeppelin suffers from one simple but fairly problematic flaw: their songwriting is, at best, seriously below par. Sure, they make up for this somewhat by being masters of arrangements, production and of course, of their instruments but ultimately their inability to come up with truly great original compositions means that I will never hold them in the same esteem that everyone else seems to. Added to this, the band suffers from several other flaws, not the least of which include a wildly inconsistent lead singer and a ridiculously high level of pretension.


The good news is that for one shining moment none of these problems had any hold over the band, a moment that came along right at the start of their career with an album that is simply known as Led Zeppelin I. This collection of blues-jams, hard rockers and acoustic-folk tracks represent Led Zeppelin at their most blissfully perfect at a time before they started loosing track of what made them great in the first place.


The songwriting isn’t up to much but for these songs it’s the arrangements, performances and production that truly matters and, as I mentioned, these are three things that the band truly excel at. Plus, I don’t know if it’s because he wasn’t that sure of himself yet but Robert Plant turns in nothing but one top-class vocal performance after another and the pretentiousness that would soil so much of the band’s later material is wholly absent here. Meanwhile, the rest of the band are as great as ever with Jimmy Page pulling off some typically priceless solos and trademark heavy riffs, John Bonham smashing away on his drum kit and John Paul Jones offering up his ever steady bass foundations.


If there is one complaint that I can level at the album, it’s that there is just a bit too much blues so I can’t help but get slightly bored towards the end there. Still, that small problem aside, this represents everything great about Led Zeppelin, while leaving out almost all of their weaker points. After this the only way left go was down - and it was down that they did indeed go but not before presenting the world with one of the all-time great hard rock/ heavy metal albums – as well as one of its first.

The album starts off with a heavy but heavenly explosion of instruments as the first song, Good Times Bad Times, sets the stage for the rest of the record. This is poppy metal at its best that of course bares no relation to the Rolling Stones song of the same name. I could only imagine what people back in 1969 thought when they heard that lethal combination of relentless drumming and that ear-splitting guitar solo exploding out of their speakers but in comparison to what was to come, Good Times Bad Times was only the tip of the iceberg for hard and heavy rock and roll.



We then move onto the band’s first and possibly best ballad, Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You. It may not really be the most moving of ballads but the way the band segue between the softer acoustic parts and the sheer sensory assault of the electric parts is nothing short of genius. This is hardly the last time they would try this but they just couldn’t ever really beat this flawless original no matter how hard they tried.

We then move into a double dose of a hard and heavy take on the classic blues song. The Willie Nixon cover You Shook Me really, really, really lives up to its name and though I’ve never heard the original, I’m pretty sure it sounded nothing like this. The song is a slow, pounding slice of the blues that features some revelatory organ playing from JP Jones and typically heavy drums from Bonzo that fit this song to a tee and of course a great performances from Page and Plant as well.



Even better though is Dazed and Confused, a song that all but defines the word “electrifying”. Needless to say the band are in top form here but I especially need to point out Plant, who delivers what is unquestionably his finest moment – just listen to the way he roars “Well, I’ve been dazed and confused/ For so long it’s not true” and tell me it doesn’t send shivers up your spine. This song is also ample proof for the band’s magnificent arrangement skills as they take a basic blues structure and blow it to pieces, ensuring that this six-and-a-half minute long piece never gets boring for even a single second.

After that burst of no-nonsense, unmerciful blues magic, they wisely move into two far lighter songs. Granted, Your Time Is Gonna Come is hardly wimpy easy-listening muzak but it does become undeniably poppy by the time the sing-along chorus comes along. It also sports a very mellow tempo during the verses but the band is as tight as ever and Plant offers yet another sterling vocal performance.



Black Mountain Side though is very breezy being a nice, folky spotlight on Page’s exemplary skills with an acoustic guitar that has a simple but undeniably lovely melody. If only the folk stuff on Untitled/IV was this good, I would almost understand why that album is as loved as it is. As it is, these two songs offer up a perfect break from the heaviness of the tracks that surround them and make this album a far easier listen than the seemingly relentlessly heavy Led Zeppelin II.

Communication Breakdown starts off this triple feature of breathtaking heaviness in style. It’s the album’s fastest track and it just might be the most economic example of heavy metal you ever shall hear. At just two-and-a-half minutes in length, this song showcases all the best sides that heavy metal has ever produced: heavy riffage; powerful, screeching vocals; pounding drumming; fat, humming bass lines and a short but unforgettably exciting guitar solo.



I’m not quite so enthusiastic about the next track however because though there’s nothing really wrong with I Can’t Quit You Baby, it does feel like one generic blues song too many especially since it is the most straightforward of the lot. Oh well, at least it is the shortest of these tracks so there’s no real harm done.


How Many More Times is much better though because though it is something of chore to sit through what with its eight-and-a-half minute long length and its placement at the end of the album, it is a very satisfying blues track. It sports an awesome riff, dynamic drumming, more of that great Page soloing, another spellbinding Robert Plant vocal performance and a fair amount of unpredictability. All in all, it’s a perfect way to end off the album. 




South African readers get Led Zeppelin 1 from Take2.

International readers get it from Amazon:

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

I haven't posted an older review in a while but here's something that has just been released here in South Africa on DVD. There has also been a lot of talk about the next Superman movie lately and Sucker Punch has just been released in the US so it's timely to talk about this, the most recent film by director Zach Snyder. Oh and I keep referring to it as "this movie" or, simply, "this" or "that" for the very simple reason that I refuse to keep on typing the absurdly long name of this bloody film!


From Channel24.co.za (Originally posted 15 October 2010) 


  
What it's about:

After escaping the clutches of the Pure Ones, a militant group of owls running an orphanage dedicated to the brainwashing of "rescued" orphans into mindless drones and soldiers, Soren, a young barn owl seeks out the help of the mythical owls of Ga'Hoole to put an end to the Pure Ones' nefarious schemes to rule over the entire owl kingdom.    

What we thought:

While there is certainly plenty to like about Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole - horrid title clearly excluded - its greatest virtue is that it's hitting our cinemas shortly after The Last Airbender. In comparison to M. Night Shyamalan's limp, lifeless kids' fantasy adventure,Legend of the Guardians' star can't help but shine all the brighter. However, up against the sublime Toy Story 3 or, more appropriately, the similarly mythic adventure/comedy stylings ofHow to Train Your DragonGuardians doesn't fare anywhere near as well.

There's nothing particularly wrong with being artistically stuck in the middle of the road as Legend of the Guardians so clearly is, but it is ultimately doomed to be measured against what it's not, rather than what it is. It may well be a more than serviceable kids' flick but it loses out when held up against the far more charming, far more quirky How to Train Your Dragon or the depth, wit, heart and sheer magic of Toy Story 3. 
Or, at least, that's the way it looks to me, a somewhat jaded film critic in his late 20s. I have absolutely no doubt that most kids, especially pre-adolescent boys will get a huge kick out of this and rightly so. It has likeable characters, thrilling action scenes, solid jokes and seriously beautiful animation. Sure, other recent animated movies often do the same thing better but I doubt that that's going to stop a 10-year-old from absolutely loving the film and revelling in the action, even if some might wonder just why on earth this particular tale had to be told with owls in the first place.

Parents should be warned though, the film does have an oddly callous attitude towards characters getting killed off so it might prove distressing to younger and/or more sensitive children. On the other hand parents can rest easy that while they're watching it with their kids they won't roll their eyes at some lame and quickly dated pop culture reference because this film is mercifully free of that very old, very tired staple of 21st century CG animation, as it opts instead for good, old-fashioned story- and character-based humour.        
    
Moving away from post-Shrek, post-modernist humour is not the only very welcome trend thatGuardians picks up from the aforementioned How to Train Your Dragon. When I first saw those flying scenes in Dragon, I was immediately amazed at how this relatively unassuming and far less hyped kids' film could so thoroughly beat James Cameron's so-called "game-changing"Avatar at its own game. Taking in the brilliantly life-like and varied characters of Guardians and the beautiful painterly vistas that serve as its settings, the same thoughts couldn't help but crop up once again. And while I may have laughed out loud at director Zack Snyder's (300,Watchmen) usual dependency on slo-mo during battle scenes, it constantly felt like these owls were just a squawk away from shouting, "THIS. IS. SPARTAAA!" but there's no getting past how well crafted the battle scenes are.            
   
Legend of the Guardians might be little more than a perfectly solid animated adventure film for kids but, considering how much worse it could have been, that might just be enough – especially for its intended audience. Do, however, take the kids to see it on the big screen – the animation is really terrific – but feel free to not bother with 3D. As usual, it doesn't have much to add.

Oh, and don't be late for the film. They may just be ripping off Pixar (surprise, surprise) but Warner Bros. have added a pretty awesome CG Roadrunner cartoon before the movie. That's right. Roadrunner. On the big screen. With awesome animation. Do I really need to say more?





South African reader buy this DVD from Take2 on DVD and Blu Ray

International readers buy it from Amazon:














Sunday, March 27, 2011

New Movies Release Roundup 25 March 2011

I have already covered most of the big releases for this week but there are still two more to take a quick look at. 


Paradise Stop is a fairly unspectacular South African film that tries to mix quirky comedy, romance and crime drama into one complete package. It doesn't really succeed, to be honest, but it's still a perfectly OK bit of local entertainment that stuck me as being somewhat amateurish but kind of charming for that. The premise itself is quite fun in that two close friends are on other ends of the law - much to the total ignorance of at least one of them but it's more diverting than truly engaging. Still, director Jann Turner is clearly one of South Africa's more promising filmmakers and, if nothing else, it's admirable to see her come up with a film that is quintessentially South African but without needing to hit us over the head with the typical cliches or overexposed subject matters. It ain't great but as far as fun, frothy local confections go, it ain't half bad either. (6/10)





I Am Number Four, on the other hand, is just not good enough, no matter which way you consider it. A story about alien teenagers trying to have a normal life, while trying to avoid the notice of their enemies is obviously not a new idea and it has already been mined far better in the TV show Roswell. And that there are obvious similarities to Buffy, Smallville and any teenage super hero story, kind of goes without saying. What's really strange is that it's written by people who are possibly best known for their work on Smallville and, more worryingly, Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Yet it never even reaches the meager levels of Smallville, let alone Buffy. It's a post-Twilight paranormal teen melodrama and it's every bit as bad as you expect. It's drearily written, ploddingly directed, woodenly acted and absolutely no fun whatsoever. Of course, none of this is exactly surprising when you consider that all the film's advertising makes it abundantly clear that it is "from producer Michale Bay". (3/10)



Best film of the week: Never Let Me Go. By a bajillion miles.
Worst film of the week: I Am Number Four. By a fair amount. Which is really saying something considering the caliber of the movies released this week that weren't Never Let Me Go.    

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Gnomeo and Juliet

My second Channel24 review for the week. This is about as weak as Hall Pass but it has even less reason to exist. Still, very young kids will probably enjoy it. Oh and I saw it in 3D apparently - a fact that I totally forgot when writing this review. It's not really worth the price of a normal  movie ticket, it's certainly not worth wasting your money on it in 3D.


From Channel24.co.za (Originally posted 25 March 2011)


What it's about:

A kid-friendly retelling of what is arguably Shakespeare's best-loved work, Romeo and Juliet. This time with garden gnomes.

What we thought:

WHY?

Whatever Gnomeo and Juliet got right and whatever it got wrong, there is just no getting past this initial question. I understand the appeal of introducing a younger generation of viewers to one of the greatest stories ever told – even if it is in a very watered-down, untragic form. What I don't get is why they decided to do this with garden gnomes of all things and why, oh why, did they set it to the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin?

I have nothing against garden gnomes and I am quite the fan of Sir Elton's early oeuvre (just don't get me started on most of his later stuff) but what the hell does any of this have to do with Romeo and Juliet? I would love to have been in the meeting where the decision was made to use garden statuettes as a way of updating ol' Billy Shakespeare's story of star-crossed lovers for younger viewers. Failing that, I would love to try out the substance that they were clearly imbibing when they came to this momentous epiphany.

Either way, garden gnomes or no garden gnomes, basing Romeo and Juliet's soundtrack on Elton John songs is no less befuddling. However much I get that Sir Elton and his good Mr are executive producers of the film and however much I love Your Song, Crocodile Rock andSaturday Night's Alright for Fighting, it's still a mighty strange and quite distracting creative decision. And even if I find the new Elton John/Bernie Taupin/Stefani "Lady Gaga" Germanotta song, Hello Hello, to be a likable would-be pop hit, that doesn't make it any more logical a fit for the story of Romeo and Juliet.        

The film itself is a mixture of good and bad. On the plus side it's cute and jolly and I'm sure most little kids will enjoy the bright animation – or at least they would if they weren't dulled down by the 3D. It is also based on the story of Romero and Juliet so it's not like it doesn't have a good plot. Also, if you're into that sort of thing, Gnomeo and Juliet is the sort of animated film where every one of the voice actors involved deserve to have an exclamation mark after their names. You know: Michael Caine! Emily Blunt! James McAvoy! Ozzy Osbourne! Julie Andrews! Patrick Stewart! Hulk Hogan! Jason Statham! Stephen Merchant!

Yes. That Hulk Hogan.

On the negative side, it's not very funny and it's really rather limp and quite vacuous. There's no getting past it though, good or bad, it's simply mind-boggling that it eeven exists. It's not going to do any long-term damage to Romeo and Juliet because, if ever there was a truly indestructible piece of literature, Romeo and Juliet has to be it. You could have Paris Hilton and Martin Lawrence playing the title characters and it would still come out unscathed, so how much damage can garden gnomes really do to it?

But still....

WHY?     





Hall Pass

The first of two reviews that I did for Channel24 this week.  It's pretty bad as far as stupid comedies go but I don't think it's quite as atrocious as some seem to think.


From Channel24.co.za (Originally posted 25 March 2011)


What it's about:

Two relatively happily men are given a "hall pass" - a week off from their marriage - by their wives, as a "cure", of sorts, for their wandering eyes.

What we thought:

That Hall Pass is crass, stupid, lowest-common-denominator trash isn't exactly surprising when you take into consideration the Farrelly Brothers' past work (There's Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber, Me Myself and Irene) but what is surprising is just how low on solid laughs it is. Just because the Farrellys revel in the dregs of the comedy barrel doesn't mean that they haven't gotten some genuine comic gold out of it. There's Something About Mary, in particular, was a huge and deserved comedy hit that has actually aged well. Sadly, Hall Pass is no There's Something About Mary. 

I say "sadly" because I was very much hoping that it would be, if not good, then at least funny in a moronic, gross-out kind of way. The Farrellys have gotten quite a few laughs out of me over the years – some that I'm not particularly proud of – and the cast has no less than four actors whose work I'm really rather fond of.

Owen Wilson can't help but be incredibly likeable in even his dopiest roles and - in direct contrast to someone like Vince Vaughn – he has only become more endearing a screen presence as time has marched on. Richard Jenkins, on the other hand, is simply an incredible actor and it's fun to see him play a character that is as far out-there as the uber-slimy "ladies man" he portrays in the film.

Jenna Fischer, despite the incredibly strange fake tan she sports in the second half of the film, is as wonderful as ever and she and Owen Wilson actually make for a great, unassuming screen couple. Finally, there's Stephen Merchant who is responsible for the film's only belly laugh – a one-minute coda that appears a couple of minutes into the credits and does more with the central premise than the rest of the film put together.

That final joke is so good in fact that it might even confuse you into thinking the entirety of Hall Pass is a passable comedy. It's a cute trick but I'm not falling for it. What's strange though, is that however much I feel the film simply doesn't work and fails miserably at making use of its daft but potentially funny premise, I really don't hate Hall Pass. I've seen a bunch of worse movies already this year and it would be delusional of me to believe that there isn't worse still coming.          

It clearly helps that the above four actors are as likeable as they are and that the rest of the cast come out of the film looking OK, but credit has to go to the Farrellys for making the film as amiable as it is. However unfunny, juvenile and idiotic Hall Pass may be, it never crosses the line into odiousness. It's crap but likably so.

I know this seems like an unlikely defence but when you consider just how bad films can get – and have already gotten this year - "just kind of crappy" suddenly doesn't seem so bad now, does it? 


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Never Let Me Go

Here's a fairly long review that I just wrote for artslink.co.za on what will I'm sure go down as one of my favourite films of 2011. And though I do make this pretty clear in the article itself, I do want to reiterate here that it's best to go into Never Let Me Go with as little knowledge about it as possible. As such, unless you're already familiar with the subject of the film, it's probably better to read this review after seeing the film. But please do see it. It's a hell of a piece of work.

From Artslink.co.za (Originally posted 24 March 2011)


Before going any further, I need to post a slight spoiler warning. While I don't intend to give away much more than the film's basic premise, part of what is so wonderful about Never Let Me Go is the way its story unfolds and, though I don't want to take that away from anyone, it's impossible to discuss the film without revealing at least a few basic points about its plot. We're not exactly talking The Sixth Sense here or The Usual Suspects in terms of shocking plot twists but Never Let Me Go should ideally be seen free of any preconceptions. As such, let me just say that Never Let Me Go is an incredibly moving and intelligent piece of filmmaking that will almost undoubtedly end up in my top 10 movies of the year come December. Go and see it and then come back for the rest of the review.

To those who have seen the movie, already know what it's about, have read the book or simply don't care, on with the show...

Based on the acclaimed novel by Japanese-British author Kazuo Ishiguro – a novel that I have not, as of yet, read – Never Let Me Go is set in a world that is not very different from ours, save for one crucial difference: in the late 1950s, a medical breakthrough was achieved that all but eradicated disease and stretched the average human life span beyond a century. I will try and refrain from spoiling exactly what that breakthrough is but I'm sure anyone with even the faintest familiarity with science fiction will be able to figure it out for themselves.

With this fact set up in the opening minute of the film, we are quickly introduced to the film's narrator and central character, played by Carey Mulligan, before shifting towards what at first seems to be a typical English boarding school in the late 1970s. We are there introduced to the film's three main protagonists: Carey Mulligan's character, Kathy's, younger self and her soon-to-be first love, Tommy, and her friend and rival for Tommy's affections, Ruth. Just as we are being introduced to the love-triangle that would define their relationship over the next decade (and the rest of the film), it becomes more and more obvious that, unlike most schoolchildren, their future is not a bright one. The film then follows the three characters into young adulthood and into an impending and unavoidable fate.

The resulting story is one that is profoundly sad, chilling, romantic and thematically complex. It is a story that deals with love, the existence of the human soul, what it means to be human, the nature of mortality, fate, questionable medical ethics and the cost of progress. What's truly spectacular about the film, though, is the way it deals with these heady concepts. Opting for neither dramatically-uninvolving intellectualism, nor hysterical over-emoting, director Mark Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland keep their eye squarely on the relationship between our three protagonists. However much I was interested by and involved in the many themes and moral questions that the film subtly introduces, the greatest feat of the film was just how great a piece of storytelling it is.

It helps, of course, that the three main actors are so sensational in their roles. Keira Knightly has taken her acting up to a whole new level – a level that until now I was never sure she'd reach – as the destructive, pathetic and yet very sympathetic Ruth. Carey Mulligan has found in Kathy a worthy follow up to her role in An Education as the emotional core of the film. Not to be outdone by his stellar leading ladies, Andrew Garfield is even better here than he was in Social Network – and that's really saying something.

The performances by the main three actors, as well as a terrific supporting turns by Sally Hawkins and Charlotte Rampling, are so good that they threaten to overshadow just how good Gardland's script and Romanek's direction are. This would be a mistake. However much the film relies on the actors to sell the emotion of the film, it is Romanek and Garland who’s seemingly effortless and masterly control of the material that makes the film the artistic success that it is.

The story isn't told through startlingly dramatic twists and turns but by unfolding at a leisurely and utterly organic pace, as it is allowed place to breathe and develop. This is a film that is engrossing not because of cheap theatrics but because of the humanity of the story. What's most incredible though is that the film achieves this humanity, this powerful emotional honesty, by being so unemotionally uninvolved in so much of its subject matter. There is a matter-of-fact detachment that comes with how these characters approach their unavoidable ends and a cold scientific approach to the way the world is changed by this medical breakthrough. It even substitutes the emotional charged word “death” with something that is far more neutral and coolly scientific: completing.

What all of this amounts to is that the film doesn't get its emotional resonance from the more artificial sources that films usually rely on: the direction and the writing of its creators – however excellent they may be - but by the emotion that is inherent in the story itself and in the characters and their relationships. It is admittedly helped along by a sweeping score but that never changes just how authentic the film's emotions feel. Nor does this coldness subtract from how powerful and thought-provoking the film's themes are. It's a pity then that the film's only major flaw from where I'm sitting comes from the narration, which occasionally does over-egg things a bit by spelling out what is already – and more subtly and effectively - implied.

Never Let Me Go clearly has its naysayers but unless the film is really inferior to the book, I can't imagine why. This is exactly the sort of film that – through its cinematography, soundtrack, acting, storytelling and, perhaps most importantly, its humanity - perfectly encapsulates everything that is great about cinema and is a gentle reminder that this century-plus-old artform is as vital as it ever was.

Don't miss it.

   

Sunday, March 20, 2011

New Movies Release Roundup 18 March 2011

OK, so another big week for films. Though, I do mostly mean big as in "loads of movies", not big as in "great". I have already posted reviews for Freakonomics and Red Riding Hood (as seen below) but there are still a few more to look at. Some better, one much worse.


Rango is a huge step up for Gore Verbinski, considering that the last two films he directed were Pirates of the Carribean 2 and 3. It's an odd animated kids movie, though, because it may have beautiful 2D animation, solid jokes and Johnny Depp is awesome as the title character but it's clearly going to appeal to adults for more than it will to kids. A large part of the pleasure of the film is all the allusions to some classic films but, when you get right down to  it, references to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Chinatown and Clint Eastwood's westerns are probably going to go right over the heads of the younger members of the audience - and some of the older ones too. Also, it is more violent and far darker than most kiddie fare and only a few of the jokes in the film really got the young kids in the audience laughing. With all this said though, it is actually a very solid western with a great cast (look out for Timothy Olyfant especially as "The Spirit of the West") and a beautifully dusty visual palette - thanks in part, I'm sure, to having legendary cinematographer, Roger Deakins on hand as "visual consultant". (7/10)


Now here's a movie that is strictly adults-only. Not so much because it's particularly explicit but because, at its best, its a truly sophisticated piece of work. Essentially, it tells the tale - unchronologically, of course) of a couple coming together and falling apart. Rather than going for the quirky comedy of something like (500) Days of Summer, Blue Valentine is a very intimate, very (seemingly) realistic drama. It's so intimate, in fact, and Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are so uncannily convincing in their roles that it feels like you're a fly on a wall watching a real relationship violently breaking up. This is a film, after all, whose sex scenes nearly earned it the dreaded NC-17 rating in America but, as near as I can tell, not for being exceptionally explicit but for how real they seem and how much the audience feels like they're invading the privacy of these two people. The strange thing about the film though - and this is where it falters somewhat - is that the years when they are a genuinely good couple feel undercooked so that when they do finally split up, it's made less believable by the fact that these characters seem almost unrecognizable in comparison to how they were portrayed at first. Maybe that was the point but it feels a bit too much like a dramatic invention to me, rather than an organic change in these characters and their relationship. (8/10)    


I'm sure the idea of pairing up Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler in a new romantic comedy, might sound like a wonderful idea to some but I could hardly think of anything worse. Aniston, to me, has always been a one trick poney and that trick got old a long time ago. Adam Sandler, on the other hand, has simply become one of the most vile screen presences around. I hear he's a very nice guy in real life but he always comes across as an obnoxious creep in his "comedy" films. He actually fares much better at dramas. And considering how bad most modern day Hollywood romcoms are, Just Go With It looks set to be a strong contender for the worst film of the year. As it turns out, it's not. Not quite anyway. For a start, Aniston seems a lot more problematic when pared off against someone who is as awful as Sandler usually is. Though, even Sandler is slightly less horrid here than he was in something like I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry, though I still find it unbelievable that the inhumanly beautiful women in the movie would ever fall for his schtick. Still, it may not be irredeemably terrible but it's still pretty damn bad. The jokes fall flat; the supporting cast, which includes Nicole Kidman and some really irritating kids, are uniformly awful and I simply don't believe in any of these relationships. (3/10)

Must see film of the week: Blue Valentine (Or Rango, if you don't have the stomach for Blue Valentine)
Worst film of the week: Just Go With It. Obviously.