The Troll Hunter

Posted in comedy, horror, T, Troll Hunter on September 14, 2011 by etheruk1

trollhunterPresented as found footage ‘The Troll Hunter’ tells the story of a group of student film makers in Norway stumbling across the biggest story of their lifetime.

Believing they are following a poacher they discover their subject, Han (played by Otto Jespersen), is employed by the government to control Norway’s troll population.

Tired of working in secrecy he allows the film makers to shadow him as he travels around the country, trying to solve the mystery of why these trolls are leaving their territories.

The film itself is an unusual mix of humour and horror. The idea of giant trolls living amongst us is amusing but the monsters are always presented as a real threat, with not all of the main cast making it out in one piece.

Otto is great as the title character, revealing the mythos of the trolls and the methods of his career completely deadpan. It his authenticity that convinces you of the reality of the situation.

Fighting the trolls and preventing them from eating campers doesn’t make him a hero in his eyes. It is simply a job. A dirty task with long hours and bad pay.

The banality of having to fill out paper work for each troll kill contrasts with the sheer wonder at discovering these fairy tale creatures actually exist.

It takes some time for the first troll to appear, as the students chase down Han across the barren, snowy wastes of Norway. This helps build up the reality of the setting and our anticipation as we eventually hear something crashing through the forests towards the students.

The trolls are a triumph of special effects and art direction. With a distinctive design they are truly impressive onscreen. You really believe that they are part of their environment.

Coming in all shapes and sizes it the students have to sort fact from fiction. Trolls can smell the blood of a Christian and sometimes live under bridges but they don’t wear clothes or challenge people to eating competitions.

We learn through Han that they are stupid animals, powerful and destructive. They evoke some pity, killed for unknowingly getting to close to the ever expanding human population.

We also get to see the governments efforts to cover up the trolls rampage, such as purchasing dead bears to take the blame for the damage caused.

Acting as our point of view characters Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen), Johanna (Johanna Morck) all play the roles with the right levels of scepticism, awe and fear.

They are almost giddy in parts, overwhelmed at being let in on this incredible secret. Still, they manage to ask the questions that the audience is doubtlessly asking themselves.

Rather than just being a series of isolated incidents the over-arcing mystery of why the trolls are behaving strangely provides a strong through line. 

Each new troll encounter adds another piece of the puzzle and pushes the characters further and further from civilisation and deeper and deeper into troll country.

At the same time we get some commentary about how man’s impact on the environment is affecting innocent animals, with allusions to global warming and development of the countryside.

Early in the film the shaky camera work did begin to induce some nausea but as the film progresses this diminished. With the existence of the trolls established the film makers are happier to pull back and show us the creatures in the open.

hantrollhunterIt is hard to discuss the film in too much detail as the journey, and the discoveries made along the way, is much of what makes it special.

It is enough to say that after a slow start the film becomes very enjoyable. You feel you are along for the ride, the documentary style inviting you to experience events from the perspective of characters.

This chaotic style helps to enhance the reality of the trolls, glimpsing them as the characters rush through a wood or peering at them through the greenish tint of the camera’s night vision while the characters hide in a cave, surrounded by the monsters.

With the many shoots of Norway and its landscapes you come to believe that these giant creatures could escape notice, living among the distant mountains and inhospitable snowy tundra.

The ending is poignant, capped with a very funny joke. A perfect summation of the movie itself.

Rating: 9/10

Cowboys & Aliens

Posted in C, Cowboys and Aliens, science fiction on September 8, 2011 by etheruk1

cowboysandaliensFar less goofy than the title suggests, ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ is a gritty western that just so happens to feature extra-terrestrials.

Daniel Craig is Jake, a man suffering from amnesia with an alien bracelet attached to his arm. Making it to the small town of Absolution, he comes into conflict with cattleman Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (played by Harrison Ford).

Just as things are about to become heated the town is attacked by alien crafts, with most of the towns-folk being abducted.

The survivors have to put aside their differences and make a perilous journey across the Wild West to get back their people.

The theme of the film is established early on by Preacher Meacham (played by Clancy Brown) who muses that he has seen good men do bad things, and bad men do good things; what matters is what you do, not what you are.

Throughout the film people have to forget the past, whether by forgiving others or themselves, to fight a common enemy.

While the film is certainly sold on the presence of Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford it has a fine ensemble cast.

Olivia Wilde is the enigmatic Ella Swenson who has her own reasons for wanting to stop the aliens. Providing a love interest for Jake, she has one of the biggest character developments during the film.

Sam Rockwell plays Doc, the saloon owner who has lost his wife. Showing no talent for combat, he has to learn how to use a gun and prove his worth.

Noah Ringer plays Emmett Taggart, a young boy who must prove he is a man by rescuing his grandfather.

The characters on the whole are likeable. You want to see them succeed as they embark on their journey that takes them further and further from their comfort zone.

Thankfully very few characters are presented as straight villains. Harrison Ford’s Colonel Woodrow initially seems destined for that role by  having men stretched between two horses or demanding the sheriff hand over his wayward and quite obnoxious son.

Once the aliens attack the character quickly moves past that. He is hunting down the aliens as much to save the towns folk as he is his son.

In a similar vein Jake first appears to be our hero, yet as his memories return we learn that he deserves his feared reputation.

These developments prevent the film from becoming predictable. You’re never quite sure how people will react to the challenges they face.

The aliens are used sparingly in the film. Their initial appearance is a shock and this continues throughout, to shake up the typical western action.

Unlike ‘Super 8’, I was impressed with the look of the aliens here; brutish, savage creatures they have just enough detail to have a convincing physical presence.

Unable to speak, we understand what they are and what they want through their actions. There is no doubt here that they are the enemy.

Complexities of character are left for the human cast. This serves the film in giving us a clear protagonist.

The alien’s tactic of lassoing their victims suggests that we are supposed to think of them as ‘space cowboys’, using their superior weaponry to conquer the land just as the Europeans did.

For all the science fiction flash this is a film that revels in the grime of the untamed West; characters go to the toilet in rivers, sew up wounds with needle and thread and demonstrate poor dentistry.

The action in the film is great, with several impressive fight scenes early on. These help punctuate the longer periods of the main character trekking across the land.

This once again demonstrates Jon Favreau’s strengths as a director. He does get a chance to show a more artistic flare in the flashbacks that slowly piece together Jake’s past.

Daniel Craig is a strong central character with much of the plot focussing on who he is and what happened to him. He convinces as a man who has been made hard and cold by the harsh environment.

Harrison Ford invests a lot of character into his role, revealing increasing depth as the film develops. The Colonel is a war hero but his ability to inspire others, and his willingness to do so, is far more important.

Inevitably, there are shadows of other alien invasion films, such as ‘Independence Day’, with ordinary people having to cope with a bizarre change to their reality.

cowboysandaliens2What ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ does is increase the stakes by placing it in a historical period. The vast difference in alien and human technology makes you wonder how the characters will defeat them.

Cleverly, rather than just being a ludicrous pairing of genres, the supremarcy of the cowboys lies in the true grit of the characters. Their determination to do the right thing is what gets them through.

By the final showdown with the aliens, we’ve come to know the characters, and what they stand to gain or lose.

This leads to a satisfying battle, with the focus very much remaining on the people and not the special effects.

‘Cowboys & Aliens’ takes two different genres and mixes them together in just the right combination. The result is a rollicking movie with a strong writing and cast.

Rating: 8/10

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Posted in R, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, science fiction on August 29, 2011 by etheruk1

Rise_of_the_Planet_of_the_Apes_PosterIn a bold move ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ attempts to re-ignite the franchise, dispelling bad memories of 2001’s ‘Planet of the Apes’.

Set in the modern day we are introduced to Caesar (played by Andy Serkis), the unexpected result of scientists attempts to find a cure for alzheimers.

Exposed to a virus designed to repair brain damage it enhances the apes intelligence. Initially living with the scientist, Will Rodman (played by James Franco) and his ailing father Charles (played by John Lithgow).

With the onset of maturity Caesar becomes increasingly frustrated in a world that has no place for him. Placed among other apes when Will can no longer control Caesar he becomes a leader, starting the end of humanities reign.

The difference between this and the original films is that the apes are depicted in a more realistic manner, created through CGI rather than costumes.

This has its benefits and its drawbacks. The use of motion capture does give them realistic movements and some great facial performances from Andy Serkis.

That being said the chimpanzees aren’t convincing, lacking a certain amount of detail. When they are interacting with other, obviously CGI elements, you might as well be watching an animated film.

This aspect only seems to affect the chimps, with the orangutans and gorillas having a much more realistic appearance.

What they do get right is the behaviour of the apes. In another change to originals these apes are not fluent English speakers. At the most a few can use sign language.

The majority communicate as any ape would, through body language and gestures. This is particularly effective when Caesar is first introduced to chimpanzees and is unable to cope with their violent reaction to him.

It is to the films credit that his journey from underdog to top of the pole is told with virtually no dialogue.

On the human side James Franco is underwhelming as the well-meaning scientist who starts the whole thing.

Far better is John Lithgow as Charles, a once intelligent man whose personality is robbed from him due to his disease. His bond with Caesar, who are both taking the same medicine, drives much of what occurs.

His plight also gives Will to push ahead with his testing, ignoring safety precautions in order to save his father.

Tom Felton, probably best known as Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter films, plays an abusive worker at the ape sanctuary that takes Caesar in.

Acting as a minor villain he is required to do little more than he did in the Harry Potter film, acting as a figure of hate.

The reason why he hates apes so much, yet works at an ape sanctuary, is explained in a single line towards the end of the film which means that most of the time you’re left wondering what is motivating him.

Brian Cox plays the owner of the sanctuary is required to do little more than appear on screen. While certainly playing a character important to the plot the role does not asking him to do anything demanding.

The pacing of story is rushed. The creators know that what we want to see is the super intelligent apes loose in the city.

The problem is that in order to get there we need to go through an awful lot of back story. At points it feels as if the film is stuck in ‘fast forward’, montages whisking us through periods of up to five years.

From the start to finish we know exactly where the plot is going, it is called ‘Rise of the Planet of Apes’ after all. There are few surprises along the way.

That being said, when the apes do begin their battle against humanity (or at least the population of San Francisco) there are some spectacular sequences, most of the highlights coming from the gorillas.

Even these sequences are harmed by the films rating, leading to a rather bloodless revolution. For the most parts the apes attack tends to frighten their opponents into retreat, rather than cause them serious bodily harm.

In taking a more realistic approach ‘Rise of the Planet of Apes’ removes much of what made the original films so timeless, the social commentary.

In particular ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’, the film that this takes the most elements from, the enslavement of the apes is very clearly a commentary on slavery.

In that film the apes uprising was something we could support. Here it is harder to get behind the apes and thus the message of the film.

Rise-of-the-Planet-of-the-Apes-Poster-7The only message given is that we shouldn’t use science to control certain things. This sentiment rings false when Will’s only motivation is to help.

For fans of the original films ‘Rise of Planet of the Apes’ contains plenty of pleasing references, from character names to foreshadowing (or homages) to the events from the original films.

Competently made the movie ultimately feels like Part 1 of a bigger story, with an ending left open for sequels. Indeed, the end cred sequence would serve just as well as the opening of the next movie.

Sadly this means that the film is unsatisfying without any real resolution. The bright side is that it is entertaining enough that you’ll want to see a sequel.

Rating: 7/10

Super 8

Posted in S, science fiction, Super 8 on August 21, 2011 by etheruk1

super8posterWritten and directed by JJ Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg ‘Super 8’ is steeped in a sense of nostalgia.

Set in 1979 during a long summer break, and centring on a group of teenage friends, it recalls movie classics such as ‘The Goonies’, ‘E.T.’ and ‘Explorers.’

The film is filled with the details of the period. The Super 8 of the title is the film stock the boys (and one girl) are using to make their zombie movie, the town sheriff warns that WalkMan players are the start of a slippery slope, and disco is still alive and well.

This yarning for the past is contrasted by the arrival of a literally alien element. A military train is derailed, freeing its other-worldly prisoner. All of which is captured on the boy’s camera.

Soon the military are moving in, people are disappearing and the town is turned into a battlefield.

While on the surface, this is a tale of an escaped alien menacing a small town, that isn’t what it is really about; rather it is a metaphor for the event that starts the film.

The central character is 14 year old Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) who has just lost his mother, leaving him alone with his grieveing father, Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler).

Just as the train derailment will later disgorge an agent of chaos, the death of the mother has thrown Joe and Jackson’s life off-track, neither one knowing how to cope.

We see early on how friendship is what keeps people together; how they survive. Joe’s friend is Charles Kaznyk (Riley Griffiths) the writer and director of their film project, who gives Joe something to focus on.

Charles’s house is bustling with children and his family offer Joe a place at their table. He politely declines and returns to an all but empty house, his father crying in the bathroom and nothing in the cupboards to eat.

This quickly establishes that Joe feels safer with his friends who need him and who are making something together; than he is with his father, who wants to send him away to summer camp.

Sneaking out at night without adult supervision they create their own reality with their film. It also creates a separate world for the children.

It is during this film project that we are introduced to Alice (Elle Fanning), the daughter of Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard). Louis is held responsible for the death of Joe’s mother, setting up inevitable conflict between the two fathers.

Alice is also an indicator of change, as the boys start to become interested in girls, which comes to test their friendship.

Elle Fanning excels in this role, her character required to put on such a good performance in the film project that it stuns the boys and in the process the audience.

Charles writes Alice into the script by having her play the main character’s wife. He explains that by showing that someone loves the main character we  invest more in his safety, knowing that he has a wife who is concerned for him.

This communicates that the boys are beginning to understand the importance of connections, and how they give things more meaning. Even if Charles still doesn’t understand why, the older boys in town keep asking about his sister.

Once the alien is freed the group of children are bound by the secret they hold, fearful that if they reveal what they know the military will kill them and their family.

The incident also spurs a change in Deputy Jackson who now plays a greater leadership role than his colleagues, his once empty kitchen now filled with other police officers as they try to work out what is happening.

His work gives his something to focus on in the same way the film project gives Joe something to do, but his priorities are still wrong, including neglecting to have anything for Joe to eat in the house.

It is only when the threat becomes much worse that he becomes concerned for his son, making a perilous journey to be reunited with him.

There are a number of set pieces in the film, the most spectacular of which is the train derailment, the boys running for their lives as chunks of metal fly past and fireballs explode all around them.

These big moments help enhance the quiet sections of life in the town. The scenes of the alien stalking people are all the more scary for the pauses between actions, characters peering into the dark silent night waiting to see what emerges.

The fictional town of Lillian, Ohio, is a great back drop for this action. The small details of rival car dealers blaming each other for stolen engines, ham radio enthusiasts at town meetings and a deputy making an extravagant bet of $5 all establish the sense of community.

The slower pace of life is even part of the plot, with it taking 3 days for the Super 8 film containing the all important images of the alien to be developed. This time is used to build up the characters and show the effect of the alien on the environment.

super8poster2The presence of the military and an escaped alien transform the comfortable town into a dark wonderland, the children forced to break into their school for valuable clues or avoid tank fire in the ruins of their homes.

The alien works best when kept in the shadows. Bearing a resemblance to the monster from ‘Cloverfield’, it is all limbs at odd angles and scuttling movement.

When it is finally brought into the light, the limitations of CGI are again exposed, lacking a real physical presence its appearance falls flat.

Even with this limitation, the rest of the film is excellent. While Elle Fanning puts in the best performance of the teenagers, they are all good, convincing as kids who are friends due to proximity rather than compatibility.

To catch a great bonus, stay during the credits for the completed super 8 zombie film, compiled from the footage we see filmed during the movie and acting as a further homage to the era.

Rating: 8/10

Captain America: The First Avenger

Posted in action, C, Captain America, Superhero on August 11, 2011 by etheruk1

Captain_America_The_First_Avenger_posterCompleting the tapestry of Marvel Films before the release of ‘The Avengers’ in 2012 ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ introduces a major character to the public.

Taking everything that has come before it makes a faithful transition to the big screen while still attaining a sense of originality.

It tells the story of Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans), given the chance to fight for his country after failing the physical exam by being transformed into a super soldier.

The film charts his progress as he becomes not only more powerful but a hero, someone who can inspire others. All of this set against World War II.

The first half of the film takes time to establish who Steve is and present a semi-realistic view of the time period.

In these early scenes there are two things that impress, Chris Evans and the special effects that make him appear small and frail.

The spectre of ‘The Fantastic Four’ movies lingers but Chris soon dispels any fears. He convinces as someone who is small in stature but big in character. He is a guy who won’t run away from a fight and stand up to a bully, even if he can’t hope to win.

This establishes the core of who Captain America is, showing exactly why he is picked by the US government for their secret project.

By digitally shrinking Chris Evans his appearance looks natural. Not only is his body scrawny but his face is narrower, giving him a completely different appearance while still retaining his performance.

These early sections are kept entertaining thanks to the supporting characters. Dr Erskine (Stanley Tucci) is the scientist whose serum will change Steve and acts as the young man’s champion.

He acts as a version of Spiderman’s Uncle Ben. Giving Steve sage advice about what makes him a good man.

The love interest (chaste as it might be) is provided by Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), an unflappable officer with a mean right fist and a dead aim.

The project is overseen by Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones). His wry wit keeps the whole project seem grounded, its goals seen as an important part of the war effort.

Bridging the gap between ‘Iron Man 2’ and ‘Captain America’ is Tony Stark’s father, Howard Stark. Featured heavily in the last Iron Man film he proves to be a rival for Peggy’s affections and the brilliant mind behind Captain America’s gadgets.

It is a good job that the characters are so interesting as the pacing of this first half is slow. There are actions sequences but they are tentative, as if they are afraid to show Captain America in his glory.

Even once he has his power and is on the battlefields of Italy quite a few of the early fights take place off-screen, bad guys falling into frame unconscious before Captain America enters.

This same modesty extends to the villain of the film, The Red Skull (played by Hugo Weaving). While he is certainly an arch villain, exuding quiet menace in every scene, they conceal his true appearance far too long.

Once Captain America has proved he is a hero and the villain shown his true colours the film looses its sense of embarrassment.

There is a real sense of fun as we see Captain America and his allies fighting Red Skull and his organisation, HYDRA, across Europe in what is virtually a montage.

It is as if we’re seeing a trailer, focusing just on the action sequences. We don’t need to know why there is a giant tank, we just need to see Captain America destroying it.

None of this would have worked if we didn’t know the man beneath the costume but it can’t be denied that these sections are by far the best parts.

Captain America makes a great screen hero, with a very immediate visual presence. His biggest gimmick is his indestructible shield and the film certainly makes the most of this.

We see it used as a physical weapon, a means to defend himself against death rays and, in a move that justifies the use of 3D in itself, throws it at his enemies.

Just as Indiana Jones had his whip Captain America has his shield. In a nice nod to the comics we see the shield evolve through several stages of development.

The script walks a fine line between serious action and tongue in cheek camp. It is a film that feels very aware of itself, in a good way.

As an example a villain throws a small boy into the sea, hoping to distract Captain America while flees. The boy tells Captain America to go after the bad guy because he can swim.

Similarly there are no witty one liners. When Red Skull comments that Captain America doesn’t give up the hero just says “Nope,” and keeps fighting.

By confounding convention the film avoids the pitfalls of a cliche superhero film, giving it a sense of reality despite the rocket cars and cosmic cubes.

Not to say there aren’t funny lines, especially from Tommy Lee Jones.

capamerica2The period setting helps it set itself it apart and is evoked well. Captain America is deeply linked to WWII. Without it he wouldn’t exist, just as the destruction of Krypton or the death of parents were necessary for other heroes to be created.

This isn’t just used as scene dressing (although the costumes and props capture the period) but to establish a mood.

This is a time when good men die, whose sacrifice meant something. This is perfectly reflected in a scene that is more than a little reminiscent of the opening scene of ‘A Matter of Life and Death’.

The film is a real treat for comic fans. There are references, in-jokes and the now mandatory appearance by Stan Lee.

It is also worth staying until the end of the trailers for the trailer for ‘The Avengers’. With so much ground work done it is an exciting prospect to see the heroes together in one film.

In conclusion I felt that this movie had more action than ‘Green Lantern’ but the slow start made it less enjoyable than the ‘Iron Man’ movies.

Rating: 8/10

Observe and Report

Posted in comedy, O on August 7, 2011 by etheruk1

observe_report_dualThe darkest of dark comedies ‘Observe and Report’ could have been a psychological thriller with only minimal changes to the plot.

Seth Rogen is Ronnie, a mall security guard with delusions of grandeur. In his mind he is protector of his little realm but when the police are called in to deal with an elusive flasher his position is threatened.

Ronnie’s attempts to prove that he is a hero and win the love of vapid make-up counter girl Brandi (played by Anna Faris) drive him down a path that leads to madness and bloody violence.

It is common in comedy films for the main characters to act stupid, maybe a little sub-normal. In ‘Observe and Report’ Ronnie is on medication to control his behaviour and half way through the film he stops taking his pills. This guy is clinically unstable.

In a scene that perfectly captures the tone of the film a character excuses himself from a prank, stating that he thought it would be funny but it’s just sad.

The humour comes from characters trying to convince themselves that their lives are okay, when the audience can clearly see that they’re not.

Ronnie’s mother is an alcoholic who regularly passes out because she knows her son will look after her. At the mall Ronnie befriends Nell (played by Collette Wolfe), a food counter worker confined to a wheel chair who is regularly mocked by her boss.

The rest of the security guards are equally sad cases. The Yuen twins (played by John Yuan and Matthew Yuan) have an encyclopaedic knowledge of weapons and bemoan the fact they can’t carry guns as part of their job.

Dennis (played by Michael Pena) looks up to Ronnie of all people, maintaining a false air of cool by perpetually wearing shades.

Ray Liotta is Detective Harrison, called to investigate the flasher and instantly exasperated by Ronnie. The friction between the two characters leads to a rivalry that runs through the whole film.

For Detective Harrison this is a minor matter but for Ronnie this is a big case. Cracking it before the police would cement his position as the true authority in the mall, maybe proving that isn’t a screw up.

Written and directed by Jody Hill, co-creator of ‘Eastbound and Down’, the situation should be familiar.

These are little people who are dreaming big. For all their flaws there is something relatable about their struggles.

There are several sections where our expectations are confounded. Just when we think Ronnie is going to fail again he rises to meet the challenge, with hilarious results.

The laughs aren’t because of a pratfall but because Ronnie is actually winning for once when he clearly shouldn’t.

These rays of light prevent the film from becoming too bleak, although things get very dark. One particular scene caused controversy upon it’s release; Ronnie sleeping with a semi-comatose Brandi.

I wonder if those complaining had seen this particular scene as we don’t see the start of the encounter and so don’t know if she gave consent.

Noticing that Brandi is apparently unconscious (her pillow stained with vomit) he stops, concerned. Only for Brandi to wake up and tell him to keep going.

It’s a ludicrous and uncomfortable situation but it would be a stretch to call Ronnie a rapist. He might be many things but that isn’t one of them.

Seth Rogen initially appears to be playing the loveable loser that he does in many of his films. To his credit we still like him even when his more violent side emerges in the latter half of the film.

Ray Loitta plays it straight for the most part, making Detective Harrison feel like he’s wandered in from a gritty crime drama. This helps establish the divide between Ronnie’s view of the world and how things actually are.

The film is beautifully filmed, finding ways to make even the most mundane things wonderful and exciting. From the bright colours of the stalls in the mall to blood floating in a hypodermic needle there is plenty of inventiveness on the screen.

In particular the few actions scenes that occur throughout are both amusing and exhilarating. Even though we know it is wrong we cheer the hero as he inflicts bloody injuries on his enemies, even if they are just a bunch of skate boarders in the mall car park.

This is all complemented by an excellent soundtrack, rock anthems that almost certainly are playing in the characters heads in an attempt to make them feel cool.

observe_and_report06It is no surprise that the character of Travis Bickle from ‘Taxi Driver’ was source of inspiration for Ronnie. The moments of triumph are the sorts of fantasies that Robert De Niro’s character experienced and I half expected a reveal that what we had seen had just been in Ronnie’s head.

The film does meander, a way to establish that things don’t occur in a straight forward narrative as Ronnie would like.

I was surprised that after shunning the typical formula of a comedy film ‘Observe and Report’ does have a some what happy ending.

If it stuck to the darker tone I think it would have been better but it is still an ending that nicely resolves the issues of the film.

‘Observe and Report’ was a victim of bad timing, being released around the same time as ‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop’. This is substantially different in terms of tone and plot.

If you enjoy ‘Eastbound and Down’ then this should entertain and any one who likes their comedy with a edge will find something to enjoy here.

Rating: 7/10

20th Century Boys

Posted in 20th century boys, action, comedy, drama, horror, T on August 6, 2011 by etheruk1

20CB1_POSTER)18X24.inddAdapted from a popular Japanese manga ‘20th Century Boys’ is an epic story, with events spanning from the 1960s to 2017, features 300 speaking characters and was one of the biggest undertakings of the Japanese film industry.

Consisting of three parts (the first released in 2008 and the final two in 2009) I watched this in one sitting, coming in at over 7 hours. So for me this is one movie and I’ll be reviewing it as such.

In 1969 a group of friends write a story about the end of the world in 2000 with themselves as the heroes who will prevent it.

In the 1990s none of the boys have grown up to be the people they thought they would be, they certainly aren’t heroes. When a series of terrorists attacks occur, mirroring events in their story, they realise that someone from their past liked their fantasy and is making it come true.

Led by Kenji, formerly a rock star and now running a convenience store while raising his niece Kanna, they discover that the masked leader of a cult known only as Friend is behind the attacks and set about discovering who he really is.

Over the course of the film Friend gains more and more power, first through his cult, then through Japan and finally the world. The mystery of who he is and why he is planning the end of the world is at the centre of the story.

By the second movie the childhood friends are on the run. Kanna becomes the main character, trying to reunite the gang to fight against Friend and find her uncle Kenji, missing presumed dead following the climax of the first film.

The third and final part of the trilogy has the reunited heroes making one last desperate stand against Friend and finally discover what this has all been about.

It is to the film’s credit that with so many characters and with so much happening the film is easy to follow and maintains excitement through out. 

I think there are several reasons for this. Firstly we are given a clear time schedule, in the form of the story written in the 1960s. This teases at what will occur and we want to see how they Friend will make some of the more ludicrous events occur, such as the giant robot attack or alien invasion.

Secondly the mystery about Friend is gripping. Throughout the three parts there are frequent flash backs to those early days, giving us numerous suspects.

The idea that everything that happened grew out of events in the 1960s is carried through all three parts of the film.

In part 1 we see the friends struggling to remember what happened in their small town. In part 2 Friend has built an education camp, complete with a virtual reality version of the town, allowing people to view what happened. In part 3 Friend transforms whole cities into replicas of the town, as if he is trying to give people the same childhood he had.

Each film gives more clues, providing just enough new information to make us feel as if we’re getting closer to the solution.

Just as an example in part 1 we learn that one of their childhood friends, Donkey, saw something in their school that terrified him so much that he jumped out a window and refused to talk about what he’d seen.

In part 2 Kanna enters the virtual reality town and sees for herself just what scared him. The revelation is well executed and helps drive the plot forward.

Thirdly the film encompasses so many genres that there is something for everyone and the running time is filled with variety.

The situation is comedic on one level, the idea that a child’s blueprint for the end of the world would be put into practice, but also falls into the horror category when we see those plans executed.

There is drama, a love story, science fiction, crime and thriller elements. All of these aspects are carefully balanced to prevent any single part from taking away from the rest.

All of this would be meaningless if it weren’t for the characters. By covering such an extended period we see the characters grow and change over the decades.

We first see the group as children before catching up to them when they are sad 40-something men. The events of part 1 transform them once again as they become rebels and in part 3 they make the transition to heroes.

Even minor characters are used to show how people are being affected by the cultural changes that Friend is imposing on the world.

Friend is a great villain, even if we don’t find out who he is until the very end. He is sad and pathetic but it is chilling the way that this very aspect of him, the desire to have a friend, is what makes people flock to him.

It is all too believable that people would get caught up in his movement. One can’t help but think of the cult leader in Japan who had his followers carry out terrible attacks on ordinary people.

20thcentyrboysThe trilogy is long enough that despite the numerous characters there is enough time to flesh them out and give them satisfying plot arcs.

The three films must be taken as a whole, given that they are all one story. It is impossible to compare them or say which part is best. They are all equally good, giving the viewer something new as the story develops.

After asking the viewer to commit so much time the trilogy climax is almost perfect, returning us to the first scene of the movie and giving it a new context.

Ultimately the film is about the choices we make, our relationship with others and how those events cause ripples through time, so a single incident can change the world nearly 50 years later.

‘20th Century Boys’ was an exhilarating movie experience that deserves to be shared by more people. It is rare to find an epic that is so well made and so entertaining.

Rating: 9/10


Posted in drama, horror, M, Magic, thriller on August 3, 2011 by etheruk1

MagicposterThere is something innately disturbing about ventriloquist dummies. Inanimate objects pretending at being alive. No matter how good a job the ventriloquist does part of us always senses that they are wrong.

‘Magic’ capitalizes on this invoking both the supernatural and mental illness in a tale of man crippled by the thing that makes him special.

Released in 1978 ‘Magic’ tells the tale of Charles Withers, called Corky by just about everyone, played by Anthony Hopkins.

On the verge of making it big with his magic act Corky flees to the Catskills, where he was raised, to avoid the physical exam that is required to secure a contract with a tv show.

Reconnecting with his school boy crush, Peggy Ann Snow (played by Ann-Margret), his attempts to find love are put at risk by his increasingly jealous ventriloquist dummy, Fats.

The film walks a thin line between psychological drama and horror. We know that Fats is bad news but are left guessing if there is something unnatural about him or if he just represents a darker side to Corky’s personality.

Anthony Hopkins plays a twin role here and as a result his name appears twice in the credits, playing both as Corky and Fats.

Corky is a man gripped with insecurities, obsessed with failure. We are introduced to him as he recounts a failed magic show. While he narrates his success we see the truth, how he fails to hold the audiences attention due to his lack of personality.

When he does admit he is lying we see how the night ended, with a burst of anger as he berates the crowd for not appreciating him.

This remains the core of the character, lying as long as he can to hide his own short comings and exploding into rage when he can’t conceal the truth any longer.

A year later and Corky’s act is improving, finding a personality by creating the fake persona of Fats, a foul mouthed, quick talking dummy.

Fat’s is everything that Corky isn’t, able to say the things he daren’t. While Corky is shy Fat’s is confident. In their act Fat’s is dominant and Corky subservient, even if in theory he has the power.

Retreating to the Catskills we see Corky visit his old haunts, seeing ghosts of his past. Upon meeting Peggy again we see that they have something in common, they both worry that the other party doesn’t remember them.

It takes Fats to break the ice between them and renew their relationship. Even though Peggy is married they reach out to each other, two lost souls.

We see that Corky’s gift for magic and ventriloquism is also a curse. People just want to see him perform or do tricks, rather than letting him be him.

Persuaded by Peggy to perform a mind reading act with her we see how much of Fat’s personality originates in Corky. Put under pressure he talks faster and faster, becoming so intense that Peggy begins to feel afraid.

Just as things are going well for Corky the arrival of his agent Ben Greene (played by Burgess Meredith) and Peggy’s husband Duke (Ed Lauter) put further obstacles in his path. Obstacles that Fat’s persuades him can only be removed through murder.

Although driven to kill we still feel sorry for Corky, thanks to Anthony Hopkin’s performance. Berated and bullied by Fats we can see he isn’t in control of his actions yet still retaining awareness that this is a mentally ill man.

This is a film without villains, only victims.

Burgess Meredith is great as Corky’s ill-fated agent. He is a powerful, charismatic character who obviously wants the best for Corky. They have a business relationship but he can see that his client needs help.

This makes his death all the more disturbing and brutal. His death signals a tipping point for Corky. From this moment forward he is filled with guilt and fear that his crime will be uncovered, forcing him to listen to Fats more and more.

Directed by Richard Attenborough the film has an Autumnal feel to it. With rainy weather and bare trees it fits the brownish hues of the 1970s.

This reflects the position that the main characters find themselves. With their youth behind them both realise that they aren’t where they wanted to be, that they never achieved what they hoped.

There is nice level of suspense to the film. You’re never sure how things are going to develop, especially as Corky is prone to character swings thanks to his dual personality.

magictwoIt is a very intimate film. Concentrating on only a handful of characters in a very limited location it feels like this could be a play.

The plot develops not through external events but through the interactions between the characters. With the focus of the story on an unstable character we never know what will happen.

This helps to maintain a good pace for the film, with characters who you care about. It doesn’t matter that Corky is a murderer, we want to see what happens to him.

The Fats doll is effective, able to be both comedic and frightening. His resemblance to Anthony Hopkins becomes increasingly apparent, to the points where in the final scenes they are dressed identically in matching sweaters.

There is plenty of food for thought about the identities we create to get by in the world and what happens when we loose our sense of self coupled with engaging performances and a wistful air.

Rating: 8/10


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

Posted in action, H, Harry Potter on July 27, 2011 by etheruk1

Harry-Potter-and-the-Deathly-Hallows-Part-2-Poster-2110 years after his first year at Hogwarts Harry Potter finally graduates, bringing this franchise to a close. We’ve watched the young actors grow, both in stature and talent.

I’ve never been a fan of Harry Potter. I never read the books and found the films patchy at best. The films raised many questions and the assurances that the answers were explained in the books did little to help.

Still, there was enough to entertain and after a certain point it becomes an obligation. You’ve kept with it this far, you need to know how it ends.

Happily it was worth the journey, with this climatic film being the best of the series. It benefits from being not only the final film but the second half of the last story.

Everything is in place, the characters are in motion. All that is left is for the hero and villain to face each other in a fight to the death.

Be warned. This is very much ‘Part 2’. There is no time to remind the audience what is happening, what anything is or who people are.

Not only must you remember what happened in Part 1, but the whole series. Obscure characters and items are introduced throughout the film’s duration and you better hope you know all about them because the film won’t tell you.

After an exciting bank raid, revisiting an important location from the first movie, the heroes return to Hogwarts.

The school was woefully underused in ‘Part 1’ so it is gratifying to not only see it again but find that pretty much the rest of the film is located there.

Harry and his friends have to locate the final Horcruxes, the mystical holders of Voldemort’s soul, in order to finish him off once and for all.

While they’re doing that Voldemort’s army arrives at the schools gate, leading to an epic siege. Teachers and pupils alike stand together to hold back the dark.

One of my pet peeves with the series was that no one ever stood up to the Death Eaters. ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ opens with an attack on the Quidditch World Cup where the wizards just panic and run when each was capable of casting spells of their own.

Here we see people standing their ground and that how only a few of the teachers are needed to erect a mystical shield that can weather blasts from hundreds of Death Eaters.

It is a true joy to see the school ready itself for battle, activating magical defences and putting to use all the things that, up until now, had seemed like a health and safety nightmare.

The battle scenes are on par with ‘Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’, relishing the savagery of combat, filling the screen with flame and blood.

Amongst all the action the characters are never lost. We have watched Harry and his friends develop over the years and now witness their darkest hour.

The days of chocolate frogs, friendly ghosts and Quidditch matches seem so long ago. The stakes are very high and beloved characters will die.

This helps keep the film moving at a great pace. It is almost breathless in its excitement to get to the next action sequences, whether it be stone knights wrestling ogres or escaping dragons made of fire.

There are also big revelations, as all the questions of the film series are finally answered. The best of these sequences incorporates footage from earlier films, giving them new context and meaning.

These flashbacks also remind us how far the actors have come. These roles were big commitments for all involved and sometimes they’ve struggled with the material.

Here the main leads (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) have never been better. Radcliffe expertly conveys the weight of responsibility that has been placed on his character’s shoulders while Rupert Grint finally gets to play something other than the comedy sidekick.

The biggest surprise is the spot light placed on some of the minor characters, particularly Neville Longbottom (played by Matthew Lewis) who becomes a hero in his own right.

It is a real treat how many of the characters, from the pupils to the teachers, were able to return for this final film. It is just a shame that with so many characters a few slip through the cracks.

There are a few sequences where characters are named but are then condemned only to lurk in the background before being promptly despatched.

All good stories need a great villain and Ralph Fiennes does an excellent job here of making Lord Voldemort someone to fear.

In previous films there was a tendency for him to be kept on the periphery of the action, acting through servants or proxies.

Here we see him in the thick of battle or terrorising Harry’s allies. We see how his power and insanity makes him dangerous and almost invulnerable.

harrypotterhallowDirector David Yates keeps all the chaotic action clear, allowing the audience to see what is happening. With so much going on you can still see who is doing what to whom.

I watched the 3D version of this film and found it to make good use of the technology. Although the first few scenes were a little too dark, things soon picked up as battle began and the fires lit up the screen.

Particular stand outs were the roller coaster-like ride through the bank vaults, a ride on the back of a dragon and broom sticks weaving through fireballs.

All managed to make good use of the depth of field and motion to immerse the audience in a thrilling experience.

For once the film ended without making me feel as if I’d missed something. We’d witnessed the end of the character’s stories. The book had been closed, the story told.

Only those who have seen the previous films should see this movie but only those that have will. The good news is that it ends on a high note.

Rating: 8/10



Lake Mungo

Posted in horror, L, Lake Mungo on July 25, 2011 by etheruk1

lakemungoTaking the form of a documentary ‘Lake Mungo’ examines the events that occur to the Palmer family when the daughter, Alice Palmer (played by Talia Zucker), drowns.

Becoming convinced that her spirit still lingers they begin to film the house, revealing something unsettling.

The further they dig the more they realise they didn’t know everything about who Alice was and what occured at Lake Mungo.

It would be easy to say that this horror film, released in Australia in 2008, is another version of the Blair Witch project. Easy and not accurate.

Unlike that film ‘Lake Mungo’ frames its footage with interviews with those involved, telling the story of how they reacted and what they did next.

The tone of the film isn’t sensationalist, it’s slow pace and muted performances establishing that this film is primarily about a family coping with a terrible loss, not one being terrorised by supernatural forces.

When someone dies it can be difficult to let go. Even before the suggestion of a ghost is presented we are shown home movies of Alice. While those images exist, so does Alice.

When the supernatural does present itself it does so in the form of indistinct images, which may or may not be Alice.

This manifestation preserves the divide for the family. Rather than seeing Alice again they find that she WAS there, always just out of reach.

There are a series of well handled twists during the film. The evidence of Alice’s presence is initially inconclusive and in some cases even has a rational explanation.

The hopes of the family is raised and then dashed, only for captured footage to reveal something darker but still grounded in reality.

Discovering a dead person’s dark secrets is something that ‘Twin Peaks’ explored. The idea that the more they discover about Alice the less they know about her.

We know that the family survive the experience, they are being interviewed in the present, but this adds a different stake. How long do they keep investigating and what will it do to their memories of Alice.

This is foreshadowed by the mother not wishing to see her daughters corpses after she has drowned, preferring to remember her as she appeared when she was alive.

The introduction of normality lulls the audience into a sense of security so that the frights are all the more effective towards the end of the film.

The supernatural element here is not easy to define and is much scarier because of it. There are things that are bigger than us, that defy explanation.

The Australian landscapes emphasises this, especially Lake Mungo itself, a dry desolate area. There are repeated shots of stars wheeling above, ancient and eternal.

This eerie ethereal feel is similar to ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’, ‘The Wave’ and ‘Long Weekend’. I find this type of horror even more frightening because you can’t understand it. The demon in ‘Paranormal Activity’ is scary but you still understand what it’s motives are, it’s evil.

Here we don’t know how or why the events are occurring. What we do understand is how the family reacts, how their wish to see Alice again lets them embrace the strangeness of the situation.

Structurally the film is solid. The fictional makers of the documentary never show a bias or agenda, letting the story reveal itself naturally.

The use of talking heads to fill in the details and act as a bridge between the footage means that we get the characters at their most reflective rather than when they are caught up in their emotions.

lakemmungo2We are left guessing at the agenda of  the members of the family and the peripheral characters, as parts of their interviews are revealed to be false or at the very least not entirely true.

The climax is extremely satisfying. Even after the conclusion it is worth watching the credits for the extra scenes which are astounding in their simplicity and effectiveness.

‘Lake Mungo’ is another excellent horror film to come out of Australia. It has a slow pace which requires patience and the revelations are never startling but it is definitely above average.

Those who are fans of the creepy Slender Man series of online videos should enjoy ‘Lake Mungo’ as the film footage is re-examined to uncover previously unseen figures and the audience is invited to make sense of the events themselves.

Rating: 7/10