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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Little One

I'm still waiting for this to be posted at Channel 24 but I figured I might as well put it up here and add the link later. Not that the movie is particular worth it, mind you.


What it's about

When Pauline (Lindiwe Ndlovu), a poor, middle aged woman, finds a brutally raped and barely alive young girl in a field next to her house, she soon finds herself becoming more and more involved in the life of the child.

What we thought

Little One is a genuinely well-intentioned, good-hearted film about a poverty stricken woman who overcomes her own debilitating problems to help the young victim of a horrific crime. Unfortunately, good intentions do not a good film make and, for all that I want to sing its praises and for all that it was in fact South Africa's entry into the Best Foreign Language Film category at last year's Academy Awards, it simply isn't a very good film.

Along with its good intentions and big heart, Little One also has some perfectly decent acting (especially since most of the actors are first timers), some often striking cinematography and a short enough running time to prevent it from ever overstaying its welcome - so what went wrong? The answer, confusingly enough, lies in its writer/ director Darrell Roodt, Not only is Roodt a filmmaking veteran responsible for some of the most critically acclaimed South African films ever, but he is one of the few still-native South African filmmakers to have worked with major international stars and to have received major accolades overseas. So I ask again, what went wrong?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Silent Hill: Revelation (3D)

I hope to have my other full length review up as soon as Channel 24 posts it, but for now, here is my review of yet another terrible video game movie.

Also up at Channel 24  


What it's about

Heather and her father have spent most of her young life on the run, but on the eve of her 18th birthday, her father goes missing but to find him she first has to come to terms with who she really is, what her horrific dreams mean and why she needs to stay away from the place called Silent Hill.

What we thought

Before tackling this second film in what will undoubtedly now be a franchise, I felt it probably behoved me to track down the first film, released way back in 2006, to try and get some context in which to judge Silent Hill: Revelation. Much to my surprise, though it is noticeably flawed, I actually thought the first Silent Hill film wasn't just easily the best video game adaptation I've seen to date, it's actually a very solid horror film that made brilliant use of the video game's visual style and creepy soundtrack to make a chiller that was actually quite chilling. Sadly though, after seeing Silent Hill, I've now gone from merely disliking Silent Hill: Revelation to actively despising it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

New Release Roundup for the Weekend of 19/04/2013

There were only three films released this weekend, all of which were science fiction films and two of which I have somehow already reviewed. This will be a short one, in other words.

To recap, Oblivion is a flawed but engrossing mix of "smart" and "dumb" sci-fi with a standout performance from Andrea Riseborough and beautiful visuals. Escape From Planet Earth, on the other hand, is just bland, bland, bland and is only worth bothering with if you're under ten years of age. And even then, I wouldn't really bother when you have The Croods out at cinemas at the same time.

This leaves Robot and Frank, which is, in effect, a quiet indie drama but with an advanced but crucially inhuman robot in one of the lead roles. It has some very fine performances from the four actors on the left there, as well as Peter Saarsgard as the voice of the robot, but this is really Frank Langella's party.

Langella plays an old cat burglar whose failing memory causes his long-suffering son to employ the use of said robot to look after him, but the robot lands up being handy in ways that none of them could have expected. While there is some solid relationship stuff between Frank and his two very different children, as well as with a local librarian with whom he becomes infatuated, the heart of the film is a character study of a complex, if often unlikable, man coming to terms with loneliness, fractured relationships with those closest to him and a past that was often less than admirable. The robot is mostly a device used to drive both the plot and the film's themes along but its "relationship" with Frank is both fitting unsentimental and crucial to getting a better understanding of Frank himself.

It is perhaps too slight for its own good and some may find it slow, but if you're interested in a science fiction film more concerned with the human heart than in exploring the possibilities of future science, never mind big, stupid action set pieces, then Robot and Frank is well worth checking out. (7/10)    

As for DVDs this week, only Argo is worth bothering with but, really, is there anything left to say about Argo? Instead, let me recommend the fantastic In Bruges. It came out a couple of years back but with the release of Seven Psychopaths, it's well worth a look. Martin McDonagh's first film is a still overlooked classic that not only features Colin Farrell in career-best form (along with a typically excellent turn from Bendan Gleeson) but this very original crime drama about a couple of hitmen hiding out in Bruges, Belgium is unabashedly strange, bleak, hopeful, immensely moving and seriously hilarious. Consider it a must see.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Escape From Planet Earth

Not even The Shatner could save this one...

Also at Channel 24


What it's about

Gary, the nerdy head of Mission Control for the planet Baab finds it upon himself to rescue his astronaut brother who is trapped on one of the most reviled and feared planets in the galaxy, a planet called Earth.

What we thought

This weekend our cinemas will see the release of nothing but three very different science fiction movies, each vying for your hard earned rands, but only two of which are even remotely worth bothering with. Robot and Frank and Oblivion may have their flaws, but they're both infinitely better than the pathetic underachievement of the kids-only animated scifi of Escape from Planet Earth.

What's especially irritating about it is that Escape has a pretty great premise to work off. It is, in effect, an alien invasion movie but with the twist that the humans are the bad guys. It's a fun, fairly fresh idea that is just about never done justice by a film that is lazy, underwritten and tonally awkward. Not even the voice presence of the one and only William Shatner as the bad guy of the piece can save it from descending into forgettable mediocrity.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Oblivion

Another month, another very solid Tom Cruise film. Why do people hate him so much again?

Also at Channel 24


What it's about

With the earth left a nuclear wasteland after its nations unleashed its collective nuclear arsenals against an invading alien force, Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are a two-man task team working together on Earth to ensure the success of an operation to extract the last of the planet's natural resources for their colony on Titan. But when Jack starts having dreams of a mysterious woman, he is soon confronted with possibility that nothing is what it seems.

What we thought

One of the best things about Oblivion is just how unpredictable it is. Not unpredictable in the sense that it goes to places where you would never expect it to, let alone somewhere truly original, but unpredictable in the sense that you just never know which science fiction movie it's going to crib from next. Writer/ director Joseph Kosinski is clearly a fan of the old saying, “if you're going to steal, steal from the best” but when he's done stealing from the best, he steals from the rest too.

The film starts off as something of a mix between Moon and Silent Running but by the time it's done, it has borrowed elements from the Matrix, Star Wars, The Island/ The Clonus Horror, Predator, Independence Day, Brazil, Wall-E, Total Recall and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The result, oddly enough though, isn't a film that feels derivative and uninspired. Much like The Matrix before it, Oblivion's freewheeling plundering of past science fiction gives it a weird freshness that makes it more than just the sum of its sources – though, no, of course there's nothing to suggest that it will come even remotely close to having the pop cultural impact of the Wachowski's landmark sci-fi work.

Monday, April 15, 2013

New Release Roundup for the Weekend of 12/04/2013

So, as a way to bring this blog back onto something approaching a regular schedule, I've decided to go back to doing quickie reviews but, aside for the a large roundup of the last few weeks coming soon, I am going to do my best to ensure that one of these will come out around each weekend. I will still be doing full reviews, especially those I do Channel 24, but these roundups should hopefully ensure that I have covered most of the new cinema releases for each week. Also, these roundups will now be a lot looser than they used to be and may even include other recommendations, if I happen to find the week in cinema to be rather lacking. These roundups may be short or they may be long, but I will do my best to keep them coming with a bit more regularity.

And what better way to start off this new/old feature than with a weekend where I haven't seen two of the week's major releases. Sorry about that, but this will happen from time to time with my being both a film critic and a relatively observant Jew. As both The Host and Won't Back Down were screened to the press over Passover, I never got a chance to see them in advance and, though I may well pay to see them at some point, neither of them look particularly promising.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen

Now for a review of this week's biggest, though definitely not best, film.

Also at Channel 24

What it's about

When the White House is attacked and the president held hostage by North Korean nationalists, only Mike Banning, a disgraced former secret service agent, stands between the terrorists and a plot that may leave the United States of America in ruins.

What we thought

When it comes to action thrillers, you can get away with weak characterisation, lame dialogue and ridiculously over the top set pieces as long as the audience willingly suspends their sense of disbelief. The very fine line between “this movie is ridiculous!” and “this movie is ridiculous... but I'm going to go with it!” separates good action flicks from bad - or your Die Hards from your Die Hard 4.0s. Olympus Has Fallen, however, somehow tramples all over this line.

Director Antoine Fuqua may be best known for the intense drama of Training Day, but Olympus Has Fallen never so much as suggests that it is anything other than an immensely silly action romp. It may have North Koreans (aka. This week's Public Enemy #1) as its villains and it may play straight into post-9/11 fears, but the film is really little more than Die Hard in the White House or, perhaps more appropriately, Air Force One on the ground. It is, in fact, a clear throwback to the action films of the '80s and '90s.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Hitchcock

Man, am I ever going to get this blog back on track...

Anyway, I think it's pretty fitting that I am reviewing a film about a great filmmaker the day after a great film critic died. I'm not going to try and do justice to the great Roger Ebert, a brilliant film critic and writer in general, as well as seemingly a pretty top-notch guy - I will leave that to those far more qualified than I - but I couldn't not mention the passing of so a giant a presence within my chosen (semi?) professional field. 

This review is also up at Channel 24.


What it's about

As famed director Alfred Hitchcock tries to put together what was surely his most controversial film to date, the true-life horror of Psycho, his marriage to his long-suffering wife and collaborator, Alma Reville, reaches a crucial turning point.

What we thought

Hitchcock is a classic example of a film that has Oscar contender written all over it, but doesn't quite have what it takes to make it into that lauded awards ceremony or, indeed, simply didn't have the right backing for what is, after all, at its most cynical, a popularity contest. Which is why, incidentally, it's being released on these shores so long after its American release date. To be entirely fair though, it isn't really artful enough to truly rank as one of the year's best films.

It has some questionable prosthetics, little in the way of substance and subtext and a few of its storytelling choices don't entirely ring true. In particular, throughout the filming of Psycho Alfred Hitchcock is shown to be interacting with the “ghost”, so to speak, of Ed Gien, the murderous, incestuous psycho on which his film is based and, regardless of whether or not Hitchcock actually did have these “daydreams”, these sequences come across as clumsy attempts to get into the mind of the Great Director or, simply, as information dumps.