Monday, 31 March 2014
Friday, 28 February 2014
Friday, 31 January 2014
Clad in the livery of the Metal Gear Solid series, Rising drops the series' trademark stealth in favour of running, jumping, and slicing. Swords are everywhere, fetishised absurdly. Swords powered with electricity. Swords propelled from their scabbards by rocket power. Enemy bullets are mere inconveniences to be brushed aside, military hardware a nuisance to be turned into cyborg fuel. Traditional ninja, samurai and feudal codes of honour are filtered through a bloody spray of sci-fi manga ultra-violence.
Monday, 11 July 2011
The story of Mark Zuckerberg, billionaire creator of Facebook defies this convention; neither coming of age movie, nor a nerd-gets-the-girl schmaltz. While Facebook itself may thrive on the trivial and banal, its genesis is presented as anything but.
Monday, 13 December 2010
For all its potential, Mad Max seldom achieves its targets. As an exploitation film it's not particularly exploitative, as an action movie it's dull as dirt. It sows the seeds of a fascinating story about the breakdown of society, and while it hits a beat now and then, long stretches are as dull and grey as the film's endless motorways.
Made on a shoestring budget, it has little to recommend it from a visual standpoint. A couple of practical stunts impress, in particular a slow-motion bike crash which understandably created urban myths about the death of the stuntman. And Australia itself is a reliably huge and gorgeous stage to set the action.
Mad Max hits its highest point in the last five minutes, as Max, finally mad, sadistically takes down the last members of the gang that killed his family. But just as it feels like the film proper is finally starting, it's all over. The sequels created their own radical mythology, but as part of a trilogy the first film, under-developed and unrealised, is not what it should have, nor could have been.
Wednesday, 27 October 2010
In cinema the lowest form of scare is undoubtedly the jump scare. It takes an artist to frame a chilling image
and a clever writer to come up with a fearsome entity.
Any fool with a big stick can make a loud noise.
Paranormal Activity 2 is a film all about loud noises: American family, demonic possession. Bang. Bang. Bang. Some of these moments are mightily effective, but l
ike a rollercoaster work only for that instant. There's nothing behind them, no meat to chew over, nothing for the unnerved movie-goer to ponder over on the late night walk back home.
Events in the film unfold, faux-documentary style through a combination of handheld video and clips from a closed-circuit security system. The methodical cycling through footage of different rooms fails to live up to the potential of the idea, with only a scattering of "did you see...?" manipulations.
Acting as a wrap-around companion piece to its predecessor, this is ultimately forgettable, but fun with an audience.
Sunday, 24 October 2010
The results will frustrate those seeking logic, but offer in its place an unparalleled aesthetic experience; a whirling maelstrom of colour and composition accompanied by a cacophony of sound designed to unsettle and unnerve. It's proof if proof need be that in the right hands, books and films can be very different things indeed.
The story could be written on the back of a beer mat, and involves witches at a German ballet school, but like all Argento films it is little more than a framework to support a series of increasingly outrageous murder scenes, the director's ruthlessly sadistic streak competing directly with his decorative sense of fine detail and beauty.
With Italian prog-rockers Goblin providing the deafening soundtrack, one doesn't so much watch Suspiria as be buffeted around in its turbulent waters. This is unquestionably Argento's masterwork, a unique piece of horror history; gory, stupid and absolutely redoubtably glorious.
Saturday, 23 October 2010
Skillfully crafted for less than the catering budget on some of today's mega-budget blockbusters, ALIENS wisely eshews trying to beat Ridley Scott at his own game and instead opts for a slick combination of military fetishm, maternal instincts and classic war movie tropes, delivering one of the most tense, satisfying and rousing genre films ever made.
Endlessly quotable and with first-rate sets, effects and direction, ALIENS (the theatrical cut, avoid the bloated Special Edition) never once puts a foot wrong and shows how to do a sequel that pays loving homage to the original, without recycling, insulting or misunderstanding.
Unrepentantly bleak and downbeat from tragic beginning right the way through to the final shot, the film bravely attempts to undo the 'shoot-em-up' tag James Cameron's second film had left the series with, and was critically punished for doing so. Nonetheless it is still a beautiful, graceful film with a black cynical heart beating underneath - a combination that even the most meddling studio couldn't extinguish.
The 2005 Assembly Cut reinstates a further half an hour of black blasted misery, hysteria and murder, returning the film to something vaguely akin to its original form, and is even more starkly compelling than the original.
With a bland, identikit cast that has clearly mistaken shouting for acting it is down to the Transformers themselves to provide the human interest, but apart from the platitude-spouting Optimus Prime and the silent Bumblebee, the rest of the robots look and sound too similar and do too little to be in any way memorable.
This is a terrible film, one which no amount of nostalgia or brainless summer apologism can possibly excuse. And if the rumours are true that it was only ever made because producer Don Murphy failed to get the rights to 'G.I. Joe', a film that never should have been made in the first place.
Like its parent series TFTM is a shameless manipulative exercise in merchandising, killing old characters purely to make space for new ones fresh off the toy lines. With a darker and more cynical tone than the series, it also benefits from the increased budget, its animation far better than the cheapo TV shows and the soundtrack, a combination of wonderfully un-self-conscious power rock and Vince DiCola's industrial, electronic funk providing the perfect backing to this futuristic adventure.
Despite myriad flaws it is still hugely entertaining, flitting breathlessly between deftly-directed action sequences, juvenile humour and even a musical set piece with barely time for the flimsiest exposition. Obviously aimed at pre-teens with millisecond attention spans it's exhausting work; the pace never daring to slow down as galaxies are crossed in minutes while characters appear, die and are transformed into new ones while all the time chasing a series of mechanical macguffins until the final, spectacular showdown.
Were I not a fan of not only Transformers but also sci-fi and anime I doubt I'd give it a second glance, but the non-stop pace, wildly imaginative designs and sickly sanctimonious moral messages make it ideal as both children's film and a wonderful piece of retro-nostalgia.
The film mercilessly flits back and forth between reality and fantasy, the outre nature of the characters and their environment making it sometimes difficult to tell one from the other. Rich in hidden meaning and suggestion and with a dark vein of humour running throughout, Eraserhead is a pure, visceral slice of cinema that has to be experienced, or suffered, at least once by every film fan.
Sensibly reigning in the more over-the-top moments of Thomas Harris' original novel, Manhunter is far more than the sum of its parts; managaing to be chilling, haunting, funny and thrilling by turn, succeeding everywhere the increasingly cynical and ridiculous sequels/remakes failed to do.
With no real plot or character, LIMBO is minimalist in the extreme. There is no on-screen clutter; no score or power bar. You have no lives to speak of, as liberally-placed checkpoints before and after each event ensure that there is never far to travel after suffering one of the numerous, black-humoured death animations. All you have to do is survive and progress.
Where LIMBO scores highest is with its overwhelming atmosphere. Beginning the game in a dark forest, your child protagonist ventures forth from left to right, avoiding pitfalls as huge trees, arachnids and primitive tribespeople gradually give way to dilapidated cityscapes and eventually a monstrous industrial complex. Every screen is a stark, depressing and beautifully-rendered tableau that adds immensely to the overall experience. LIMBO sounds as good as it looks, with flat blasts of noise and a scattering of effects creating a terrific ambience and contributing to the overwhelming, dreamlike feel.
The second half of the game does lose its way a little; the factory settings swiftly dispel the awesome sense of fear and wonder of the opening forest section, and sometimes death comes a bit too easily. Some of the puzzles are a little too obscure, although there is a genuine feeling of satisfaction when solving one of them .
LIMBO is a gorgeous slice of nightmare ambience, slightly hamstrung by its reliance on trial-and-error gameplay. It's Eraserhead meets Rick Dangerous, short and sweet, funny and disturbing. It's no Super Mario Galaxy, but it's an original spin on a well-worn genre and is well worth taking a look at.
Not content with claiming top dog status at Doctor Who, writer-producer Steven Moffat has turned his talents to a contemporary reimagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective. Transplanted to modern-day London and given a shot in the arm (not of opium, mind) Sherlock sets out to prove that the science of deduction cannot be beaten, whatever the century.
The wonderfully-named Benedict Cumberbatch is superb as the modern-day Holmes, who with just a hint of Jeremy Brett totally captures the frustrated, arrogant and almost autistic genius at the heart of the character. Martin Freeman does a convincing enough job of playing Martin Freeman, the script wisely avoiding the idiot Watson of many of the prior adaptations. Everyone else fits neatly into their pre-set roles, the bumbling Lestrade, the busybody Mrs Hudson and assorted red herrings, victims and obstructions.
But while the characters and setting have been updated fittingly, the episode is filled with great clunking references to smartphones and blogs and GPS navigation that are not only unneeded, but guarantee the series will date appallingly. A lot of the charm of Holmes comes from its turn-of-the-century flavour and vague gothic trappings, and curry houses, office blocks and laptops simply aren’t as evocative or exciting.
With Moffat at the helm and with sometime Who contributor and League of Gentlemen alumni Mark Gatiss both writing and acting, comparisons with the Time Lord are inevitable and in this case deserved. A Study in Pink (a riff on the Doyle novel A Study in Scarlet) feels like an episode of the newest seasons of Doctor Who; the breathless pace, the seemingly-compulsory running around, the self-glorifying exposition and even the awkwardly inserted gay undertones feel at times like a fan fiction cross-over . And it’s hard not to imagine Cumberbatch himself playing either role; Moffatt’s incarnation of the great detective is only a short step and a few regenerations away from the modern-day Doctor himself.
A 2010 Sherlock Holmes could have been a disaster, and while far from perfect, Sherlock reigns in its sensibilities, pays due respect to its source material and manages to be a little funny and a little scary at the same time. Logic dictates we won’t be waiting long for a second season.
Nearly identical to Manhunter/Red Dragon in terms of structure, Silence attempts to distract the viewer from this by unwisely upping the ante of the content with more violence and weirdness, and an even more ludicrous and twisted social misfit killer.
The film also marks the start of the transformation of the character of Hannibal Lector from believable, chilling minor role to the serial killer version of Ronald McDonald; a supernaturally-powered, pun-dispensing omnipotent face-eater. Anthony Hopkins' hissable pantomime version robs the character of any menace or dignity and replaces them with cliched evil genius tics and a parade of funny voices.
And while Jodie Foster is splendid in the role of FBI agent-in-training Clarice Starling, the one-two punch of the film's crippling similarity to Michael Mann's far superior Manhunter and the cartoonish story and characters doom it from the very start. Even the occasional dip into gothic horror, and a superbly tense final pitch black shootout aren't enough to quite redeem it.
Despite being at times a virtual remake, Predator 2 still manages to entertain thanks to the combined efforts of the constantly-perspiring Danny Glover and the shark-like Gary Busey, and the wise retention of the violence, action, humour and ethnic stereotyping that made the original such a classic.
Decent effects, music and direction help paper over the cracks and just about keep the audience interested as they wait for the characters to discover all the things everybody who saw the first film already knows.
A few good ideas and some welcome expansion of the Predator's culture and technology add to the appeal, but the overall similarity, plus a confused and rambling climax detract from a decent but not spectacular follow-up.
Adapted from a script called SIMON SAYS, at one point a Brandon Lee vehicle then later considered as the next LETHAL WEAPON, the film sees John McClane team up with Samuel L Jackson, again playing himself, as a zany mismatched couple attempting to foil the efforts of a grudge-bearing sadistic Euro-terrorist, wrought laughably camp by the constantly vest-clad Jeremy Irons.
A satisfying balance and zinging dialogue between the two leads, plus plenty of clever action and moments of shocking violence keep the interest initially high, although the film fails to sustain it throughout, especially once the villain's plan is revealed as almost an exact retread of the first film's. Like so many action films it also loses focus an hour and a half or so in, failing to keep ahold of the myriad plot threads it has woven, and the seemingly ad-libbed, tacked-on climax is deeply unsatisfying.