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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Snowpiercer

Cult classic or just a bit flawed... you decide.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

After a disastrous climate change experiment wipes out nearly all life on earth, the last few remaining humans spend their lives in Snowpiercer, a highly advanced, self-powered train, on its endless journeys around the world. Within Snowpiercer, however, tensions between the classes are about to reach boiling point and it's up to Curtis (Chris Evans) and his ragtag group of lower-class revolutionaries to bring class equality to the train – or die trying.

What we thought

An instant cult classic on release, Snowpiercer's curious mix of allegorical science fiction and Asian-cinema-inflected, heightened action sequences has also fallen victim to a fair amount of backlash. Interestingly, it's one of those rare genre films that has had a noticeably warmer reception by critics than by general audiences, as it scored a very respectable 8.4 on Metacritic and a rather less enthusiastic audience rating of 7.0 on the Internet Movie Database.

It's a fairly strange phenomenon but it's hardly entirely unexpected. Snowpiercer is an audacious science fiction film that deals head on with fairly big ideas but, while it works well on that “deeper” level – you know, the level that critics love to operate on – as a basic piece of storytelling, it is unquestionably flawed.

Instructions Not Included

I'll have a Ninja Turtles review up soon but first a couple more interesting films.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

After a former one-night-stand drops off his baby daughter at his door, Valentin heads off to America to find her but ends up creating a new life for himself and his child.

What we thought

Instructions Not Included is apparently the highest grossing Spanish-language film of all time in America and it's not that hard to see why. For a start, about a third of the film is actually in English so, presumably, that helped increase its accessibility but considering how familiar and comforting its story is, it doesn't really need much help as far as that goes.

Indeed, while there is an absolute fortune to like about this wonderfully charming little story, it's hardly overflowing with originality and it's certainly not afraid of wearing both its sentimentality and its cliches on its sleeve. It's presumably going to show exclusively at art cinemas but this isn't exactly a Pan's Labyrinth or an Y Tu Mama Tambien. It's a good, solid little dramedy but it is the very definition of mainstream. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. Hell, it's nice to get the occasional foreign language film that isn't aimed chiefly at “high brow” audiences.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Gone Girl

Pardon the lateness but, no, just because I'm one of the last people on earth to review this does not mean I'll be including spoilers here. It's tempting, especially as it makes it so much easier to actually review the thing but you really should go in knowing as little about what happens as possible - well, beyond the basic premise anyway. Although, then again, maybe not...


It's incredibly tempting to do two different reviews for Gone Girl: one for those who are utterly unaware of the story and one for those who have already read the book, seen the film or absolutely don't care about spoilers. I'm lazy though, so that's not going to happen. What I will say is this: if you want to go in knowing nothing about what happens in the film, don't read a word beyond the next two paragraphs.

The premise itself has been well advertised and actually tells you nothing about the rest of the film so I suppose it's OK to know that Gone Girl - adapted from her own novel by Gillian Flynn and directed by the venerable David Fincher - is about what happens when Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) walks into his house on his fifth wedding anniversary to find his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), missing. It's also perfectly safe to say that I couldn't recommend Gone Girl highly enough, that it's easily one of David Fincher's best films to date, that it's one of the must-see films of the year and that, despite all this, it may well rub you very much the wrong way if you don't have, at the very least, a twisted sense of humour.

Beyond this point, there still won't be any technical plot spoilers but, because I will be talking, about the film's themes, its genre(s) and its very strange tone(s), it might still be more than you want to know. Personally, as someone who had read the book and knew just about every turn the film was going to make, I actually don't think general plot spoilers will actually spoil the film - but, in the spirit of being better safe than sorry, maybe come back and read the review after seeing the movie.  

Friday, October 3, 2014

I, Origins

This review may have gone off on a tangent or two but, considering the film, that seems about right.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

A molecular biologist, who believes in nothing but science, uncovers something in his studies of the human eye that promises to challenge everything he holds to be true about the universe, a bridge between physical and spiritual worlds.

What we thought

Writer/ director Mike Cahill's debut film, Another Earth, was a low-budget, indie science fiction movie that used its well-worn scifi premise of a parallel Earth to explore the twin ideas of redemption and forgiveness – and he achieves, or at least tries to achieve, a similar trick with this, his sophomore effort, the puntastically titled, I, Origins.

Whatever else you might say about I, Origins, you can't deny its ambitions and you certainly can't deny that Cahill's hyper-intelligent, symbol-heavy science fiction films are a refreshing change from the bombastic scifi flicks that the big studios come up with – and that's even if you happen to really enjoy things like Guardians of the Galaxy or The Edge of Tomorrow. I, Origins plays out like your average independent relationship-drama but with the crucial added twist of heady science fiction thrown in.

Dracula Untold

This ain't your granddad's Dracula... and it's all the worse for it.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

The story of the honourable Vlad Tepes becomes the infamous vampire known as Dracula, after he makes a deal with the devil to protect his family and his people from invading Turks.

What we thought

“Dracula Untold” is one of those titles that are begging for critics to make stupid puns on – cute puns if it's lucky and/ or good, cruel puns, if its neither. I'm going to do my best to refrain from such cheap shots (hey, there's a first time for everything, right?) but the latest retelling of the Dracula legend kind of deserves what it has coming to it.

It's not that Dracula Untold is a terrible movie – it's not – but it suffers from the weight of the story its trying to tell. On the plus side, it isn't quite like those silly myth-busting films (Hercules, Arthur) that try to reveal the much more boring “true stories” behind the legends but, funnily enough, this is the one mythical story where its historical inspirations might actually be interesting. While Bram Stoker definitely did use the historical figure of Vlad “the Impaler” Tepes III to name his villainous monster, it's long been open to debate whether it was more than just Vlad III's name that was an inspiration.

The main problem with Dracula Untold (and it's not the only one) is that the film draws a direct and utterly un-nuanced line from Vlad to Dracula and, in the process, flattens the appeal of both. Director Gary Shore and screenwriters, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, seem uncertain as to whether they are telling the story of a man giving himself over to evil for the great good or if they're simply telling what amounts to a superhero origin story.

The November Man

Brosnan's Never Say Never Again - but with more nudity, violence and bad language...

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

A retired CIA agent is brought back into the fold on a personal mission that soon finds him going head to head against his former apprentice.

What we thought

Take one former James Bond (Pierce Brosnan), one Bond Girl (Olga Kurylenko) and chuck them into a plot of super-spies, double crosses and international espionage and you get a film that is much comfort food as it is cliché. There is absolutely nothing even remotely original about The November Man and even less that's genuinely extraordinary about it but, in this case, that might not be such a bad thing.

Brosnan plays a spy who is even more of a bastard than Bond but he plays him with much the same suave charm and acerbic wit that he brought to his most famous role and, even if the world he inhabits is less abjectly ridiculous than the one of that era of 007, it's still pretty familiar. Indeed, The November Man is pretty much a Daniel Craig Bond film from a universe where the Daniel Craig Bond films still starred Pierce Brosnan – and quite a bit more profanity, violence and nudity. The fact that Quantum of Solace's Olga Kurlyenko is along for the ride only cements that impression.