Archive for October, 2013

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Nat and Josh (Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall) meet, fall in love and marry in a whirlwind romance. However, as they get to know each other their differences begin to bubble to the surface, causing friction, which is complicated by the arrival in their lives of Chloe and Guy (Anna Faris and Simon Baker), who seem to be the perfect partners that they are both crying out for.

“I Give It A Year” is a British comedy pitched somewhere between broad American laugh fest and typically English embarrassment humour. Although the touchstones here are familiar (odd couple squabbling and awkward exchanges with a partner’s parents are among the most overused subjects in modern comedy) and some one liners fall a little flat, the material is attacked with such conviction and charm that it never seems cliched or trite. In particular, set pieces involving an digital photo frame, a game of charades and a wedding dance all find the mark expertly.

The supporting cast is extremely strong. Jason Flemyng, Minnie Driver and the always excellent Olivia Coleman really make the most of their small parts, perfectly illustrating how good actors can elevate their material, while every line delivered by a seemingly freestyling Stephen Merchant is a guaranteed chortle at a minimum. Simon Baker is charming in a role that could easily have been incredibly unlikable in lesser hands and Anna Faris is pleasant enough, although she rarely gets the chance to show off her comedic chops (a hilariously combative threesome being a notable exception).

The leads are also very impressive. Rafe Spall continues his rise to prominence and his first shot at leading man status just shows how much he truly deserves that billing. An excellent actor with a gift for verbal and physical comedy he will surely be one of Britain’s breakout stars of the next few years. Rose Byrne is also very good, delivering an incredibly sweet turn and displaying a hitherto unseen talent for broad comedy.

However, none of this disguises the failure of writer/director Dan Mazer to take a collection of funny moments and mould them into a coherent whole. Scenes often appear as if from nowhere with little context, while framing devices are used and discarded like the cutaways in an episode of “Family Guy”. It is fine for a comedic film to neglect narrative as long as it’s sole aim is provide laughs, but this film appears to call for investment in it’s characters and it has a hard time achieving that due to it’s patchwork plotting. It also doesn’t quite have the courage of it’s convictions when it comes to it’s theme, and, although it is nice to see a movie where there is no “bad guy”, this is a film that consistently takes the easy way out.

Some may forgive the film it’s faults because of how funny and well performed it is, while others may find it hard to get over the slapdash narrative and underwritten characters. If you are in the mood for a very funny but flawed romantic comedy with a cynical edge then “I Give It A Year” will be right in your wheelhouse; although a little more care could have catapulted it to greater heights.

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A bit of a change of tack for this post. Just 5 of my favourite opening credits songs.

Cabin Fever 2 – Cave Singers – Dancing on our Graves.

Ti West’s terrifically fun sequel to Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever crams a whole load of plot into it’s opening credits, and the song fits perfectly, a spritely yet haunting march toward doom.

The Brothers Solomon; The Flaming Lips – The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song

This was what gave me the idea for this post. I have no idea why but i loved these ridiculous opening credits and i’m putting it down to The Flaming Lips because i can’t work out exactly what else it could be. Maybe it’s the comic sans.

The Beast Must Die – Douglas Gamley

The theme from Amicus’ Classic Horror/Whodunnit has to make the list; cos nothing screams “trapped on an island with a werewolf who could be any one of us” than some tight-as-a-fat-guy-in-a-thong lounge funk with mildly ominous horns. inappropriate but undeniably righteous.

The Taking of Pelham 123 – David Shire

The chuntering drums, dirty horns and a claustrophobic feel perfectly capture the essence of this 70s classic; as perfect a musical distillation of a gritty thriller set on the New York subway as is humanly possible.

Major League – Randy Newman – Burn On

This ode to the devastating effects of man on nature coupled with the opening sequence’s depiction of decaying industry in cleveland provided the perfect marriage of song and imagery and is literally the only reason to ever listen to Randy Newman.

dracula di dario argento (2012)

Posted: October 21, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Also known as Dracula 3-d, this is the latest film from legendary director Dario Argento. Though many of his early films are considered classics, he has had a tougher time of late with the vast majority of his releases being poorly received and considered failures at the box office. This perhaps explains why this film has finally slipped out onto DVD, almost unnoticed, over a year after it’s initial screenings.

The opening credits aptly illustrate the problem Argento faces in the modern era of film-making. The camera swoops from the sky, down a street and up through a window, recalling one of the the stylistic tics that made him famous, an audacious feel for the bravura and unusual. One of his best known shots, from his classic “Tenebrae”, went up and over a house, peeping in windows, before settling down on the hands of a killer on the other side. To execute this Argento had to import a special crane that could carry the camera through that motion and spent days getting it just right, a dedication to his craft and belief in his ideas that created shots the likes of which had never been seen before. Here the shot is quick as a flash, slick, smooth and entirely CGI; and therein lies the problem. With the right software anyone can do what he alone once did. It feels meaningless, and worst of all, it actually is meaningless, a CGI homage to his old self thrown away over the opening titles.

There are still hints of the old Argento. His camera still lingers longer than any other genre director would dare, his floating takes always stylishly framed and his palette of colours still bold and vivid. But, again, the harsh light of modern film-making has not been kind to his style. Rarely will you see a modern film where the actors involved seem more concerned with hitting a mark than delivering a line, while extras mill through shots half-heartedly as though bored of being herded like cattle.

Where once Argento was a master at building tension, here he disregards that completely. His trademark violent flurries occur with little build-up, and it is they alone that carry the horror of this film. As such, it is a shame that Argento has once again put his faith in Sergio Stivaletti. The practical effects here are even more contrived than his work on “Sleepless” with one axe to the skull effect being particularly poorly executed.

The CGI is also incredibly cartoonish, more closely resembling “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” than special effects suitable for a horror film. A giant praying mantis and a wolf transformation are nothing short of inept while one decapitation scene is genuinely laugh out loud funny.

The version reviewed here was not in it’s original 3D but with objects thrown directly at the screen and creatures rushing quickly toward the camera, the unsubtle attempts at exploiting the medium are obvious, bringing to mind the terrible spate of 80s 3D cheese like Tony Anthony’s “Treasure of the Four Crowns”. The score is equally unsubtle, swimming with theremin and violin, so on the nose that Mel Brooks would have turned it down for “Young Frankenstein”.

Thomas Kretschmann seems an unusual choice as Dracula, being physically quite different to most people’s expectations of the character and having none of the charisma or magnetism of the great actors closely associated with the role. Because of this, it was a mistake to burden him with well known lines (“Children of the night, what music they make”) as this only serves as a reminder of what he isn’t and could never be. There is a certain sadness in his portrayal at times, which threatens to be interesting, but it doesn’t mask how poor a fit he is for such an iconic part.

Most of the rest of the cast sleepwalk through their roles, while Rutger Hauer gives a strangely serene performance, in a way recalling Leslie Nielson’s turn in “Airplane”. He is completely accepting of the silliness surrounding him and some of his lines definitely wouldn’t be out of place in a Dracula spoof (“thank god i had enough garlic for one bullet”).

It is incredibly hard to know what to make of this film. It is silly and slightly camp, without being enough of either to truly qualify as a guilty pleasure. some could argue that Argento is using the mythos of Dracula as a metaphor for himself, a man trapped by past deeds who can only be a monster when he wants to be more; although that is probably reading too much into the film.

More likely is that argento just chose to have a little fun for a change rather than trying to live up to expectations he can never meet. “Dracula” is certainly an improvement on his most recent films (and his other attempt at a period piece, the putrid misfire “Phantom of the Opera”), but that really isn’t saying much. This is cheap schlock that makes little attempt to be anything else. If you view it as a homage to bad film-making then it is a theremin soaked triumph of bad acting, stilted dialogue and laughable special effects; although it is unlikely that the intention was for most of the fun to come from it’s inadequacies.

the brothers solomon (2007)

Posted: October 15, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Will Forte and Will Arnett play a pair of idiotic brothers who live together alone, spending their time embarrassing themselves in attempts to court members of the opposite sex. When their father (Lee Majors) falls into a coma they are driven to deliver him a grandson before he dies and make a deal with a women they meet on Craigslist (Kristen Wiig).

Marketed primarily as a wacky comedy, the intent was clearly to make audiences believe that “The Brothers Solomon” was a twenty-first century Dumb and Dumber. In a way it is that sort of movie, but in many other ways it is not and that may have been the reason for the negative reception it garnered upon it’s initial release.

The script by Forte is essentially a series of sketches knitted together by the loose plot. There are a lot of funny jokes both visual and verbal, and some nice interplay between the brothers. However, a fair share of the gags miss the mark, and a lot of the film (and characters) are badly underwritten.

The direction by Bob Odenkirk takes a largely different tone as he attempts to imbue this film with an “indie-quirkiness” rather than the slick style you expect from a zany comedy. There are a lot of long takes, handheld camera work and some unusually stylised shots mixed in with the more conventional scenes. At times this seems to clash with the content of the film and although it is easy to admire the fact that the artist now known as Saul Goodman tried to do something a bit different with the material, it leaves you with the impression that he doesn’t know what type of film he is trying to make.

A lot of the performances are good, particularly Forte, charmingly sweet as his half of the titular brothers while Wiig is a likable every-woman. Chi McBride is the absolute standout, as he was in the earlier Odenkirk film “Let’s Go To Prison”, with almost every line delivery and reaction shot eliciting a laugh.

The real problem with the film is Arnett. Horribly miscast, he just comes across like a sleazy scumbag when he is supposed to be a likeable and sympathetic character. A key plot point is that Malin Akerman’s character is supposedly a “bitch” for not liking him romantically, but such is his level of awkward creepiness that you wonder why she doesn’t pull out a rape alarm every time he approaches. If you imagine the movie “Step-Brothers” with the John C. Reilly role filled by Charles Manson, you’d be close to how off-key his performance is.

Despite it’s faults, “The Brothers Solomon” is a pleasant surprise, far from the travesty it has been made out to be. Although tonally a mess, it is funny, off-beat and it has real heart. If you approach this with an open (and forgiving) mind, you’ll find a sweet, well meaning movie that didn’t quite come together but remains a very enjoyable way to pass 93 minutes.

evil dead (2013)

Posted: October 14, 2013 in Uncategorized
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A group of friends gather at a remote cabin in the woods to help one of their number as they go cold turkey. Matters are soon complicated by the discovery of an ancient book containing evil secrets…

To get it out of the way, this is a remake of Sam Raimi’s horror classic “The Evil Dead” (and, in a way, it’s sequel, which itself was essentially a remake) aimed at a modern teenage audience, so it already has a some mighty big shoes to fill for anyone not in it’s target demographic. In many ways it’s name is a blessing and a curse; a blessing because more people will watch it to see if it lives up to the original, and a curse because a vast majority of those people will hate it for what it isn’t regardless of what it manages to be.

There are slight differences to the plot, and more is made of the relationship between the siblings than in the original, as the makers attempt to ground the film more in human relationships. It is a shame that the most interesting character (who also happens to be played by the most talented actress, the excellent Jane Levy), spends much of the film sidelined. The other characters barely register, particularly David, played by Shilo Fernandez in a performance so wooden and devoid of charisma he essentially functions as a black hole, sucking the energy out of every scene he is in.

While played a lot straighter than the original, this is still a silly and over-the-top film. Rather than the slapstick and mugging of Raimi’s muse, Bruce Campbell, much of the humour is more knowing, based on the audience having knowledge of the inevitabilities of the genre. Nods and references to the original also raise the occasional chuckle; some well worked, others ham-fistedly crowbarred in, while one (a post credits stinger) makes no sense at all but provides what may be the film’s most memorable moment.

The main selling point for the film (other than it’s title) is that there is some terrifically fun gore. There is more quickfire slicing and dicing than a slapchop ad, as arms and hands are lopped off, faces cut from the skull, and bodies split down the middle by a chainsaw, all delivered with buckets of blood and tongue firmly in cheek. There truly is some outrageously enjoyable carnage and this is probably the film’s saving grace; it is hard to hate a film trying so hard to be ridiculously disgusting.

As a standalone film, “The Evil Dead” is unrelentingly average, although it is fun with it. A completely mediocre cineplex horror with an iconic name that has a nice line in over the top violence but not much reason to recommend it otherwise.

mama (2013)

Posted: October 9, 2013 in Uncategorized
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A terrible tragedy leaves two young girls stranded alone in a desolate cabin in the woods. Five years later the girls are found and having had no human contact in the interim are now wild and feral. Their uncle gains custody and, with his girlfriend, takes the two girls in, not realising that these children do not come alone.

“Mama” is supernatual thriller that is not afraid to get straight down to business. There is no slow-burn here, this is a film that simply wants to pack as many scares into it’s runtime as possible, and for a while this seems a successful tactic. The pace doesn’t let up and the scares are effective as well as frequent. However, as the film goes on it attempts to raise the stakes and quickly finds that it has left itself nowhere to go. The more you see of the ghostly Mama the less effective she is, and a ridiculously overwrought ending not only falls flat but also leaves you wondering how exactly this is going to be explained to child services without somebody ending up in prison.

The titular Mama’s story is clearly supposed to be the mystery that drives the film, in the manner of Sadako’s history in “Ringu”, but enough is divulged early on that where it is heading becomes incredibly obvious, particularly if you have seen Hideo Nakata’s Japanese classic.

The relationship between Jessica Chastain’s Annabelle and the two girls is the emotional centre, and although well performed, feels underdeveloped as well as a missed opportunity to do something more interesting. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is given shamefully little to do in a dual role, while subplots involving a psychiatrist studying the girls and an aunt battling for custody also go nowhere, seemingly just excuses for expendable motiveless placeholders to act in certain ways because it will drive the plot forward.

Andres Muschietti does show a lot of promise for a first time director. The camera pans and zooms through lovingly framed shots and he has crafted some fine jump scares. However, while easy on the eye, the style he has chosen for this film does seem somewhat hackneyed, something that is not helped by the continuous and shameless “homages” to other horror films.

The score is equally effective but also incredibly derivative and didactic, with tender scenes being accompanied by a stereotypically lilting violin or piano refrain and every dramatic moment being emphasised by an orchestral flair or burst from a trombone.

“Mama” is an fine looking popcorn horror film with an intriguing premise, although some of the more interesting aspects end up being left untouched. For the majority of it’s 110 minutes it provides a healthy dose of fun frights before spectacularly falling apart in what can only be described as a final reel meltdown.